Darya Dugina, the daughter of the prominent Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, was killed in a car bomb explosion in the outskirts of Moscow on Saturday. She was returning from a festival where her father had given a speech. Dugin was reportedly planning to return with his daughter in the same car, but changed his mind at the last minute.
Footage published online in the aftermath of the explosion appeared to show a distraught Dugin holding his head in his hands in front of a burning car.
Dugin is a leading proponent of the Russian imperialism that the Kremlin has imposed since 2014, although his influence on Vladimir Putin’s regime has been overstated. As early as 2008, Dugin was calling for Russia to annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. In 2014, as Russia did exactly that, he called for Ukrainians to be “killed, killed, killed”. His pet theory of “Eurasianism” envisions Russia leading an empire straddling Europe and Asia as a counterweight to the decadent Western world. Dugina, a regular sight on state TV, shared many of her father’s beliefs.
Little is confirmed about the responsibility for the blast. Some Russian media and political figures immediately blamed Ukraine and called for retaliation against Kyiv. Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said “we need to start talking about a policy of state terrorism enacted by the Kyiv regime” if Russia confirms Ukraine’s responsibility. Kyiv, for its part, denies any part in the killing. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said: “Ukraine has absolutely nothing to do with this, because we are not a criminal state like Russia, or a terrorist one at that.”
More cryptically, a previously unknown anti-Putin group calling itself the “National Republican Army” (NRA) claimed to have carried out the assassination. The NRA styles itself as a Russian partisan army working within Russia to overthrow the Putin regime. Ilya Ponomarev, a dissident former member of the Russian Duma who now lives in Kyiv, unveiled the NRA manifesto during a broadcast on a Russian-language Ukrainian TV channel.
If confirmed, the emergence of a rebel group using violence within Russia against Kremlin-linked figures would represent a drastic escalation of the war for the Putin regime, now confronted with an additional threat to its survival.
Dugin was likely the intended target of the car bomb. He is associated with the regime and particularly the neo-imperialism it brought to Ukraine, but he is not important enough to merit the security a top government official is afforded. It is possible, however, that his daughter’s killing was the work of the Kremlin, perhaps seeking to silence some of the criticism of its actions from the ultranationalist right. (It is difficult to overstate how little is known at present.)
The assassination comes at a fraught time in the Russia-Ukraine war. In one of those quirks of history, 24 August will mark both Ukraine’s Independence Day and six months since the start of the war (Putin doubtless did not think the fighting would last long enough to make the occasion relevant when he decided to invade on 24 February). Ukraine is already warning that the killing of Daria Dugina may serve as a pretext for Russia to mark the occasion with characteristic brutality.