TLDRUpFront: A car bomb outside Moscow killed Darya Dugina, an influential ultra-nationalist ideologue and Putin supporter. Russia is blaming Ukrainian special forces for the attack but it is too early to know much. It’s possible that the attack targeted Darya, or her father Aleksandr, both of whom were using the vehicle just prior to the explosion.
Darya, no relation to MTV’s Daria, was killed last night outside of Moscow with a car bomb.
FullContextInTheBack: A key foundation of Putin’s nationalist thinking can be traced to the work of Aleksandr Dugin, a writer and activist. Dugin Senior has advocated for a fascist-style “Eurasian Emprie” centered on Russian identity and culture, in permanent warfare with the west. He was influential in the annexation of Crimea and absorption of Ukraine by Russia but has had wanining influence in Putin’s regime since 2016. His daughter, Darya, has continued the ideological and intellectual support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She claimed Russian war crimes were staged and has been named both by US and UK sanctions for her influence in the Kremlin and the spread of disinformation.
Both Darya and Alexsandr attended the “Tradition” arts festival outside of Moscow and both were expected to use the same vehicle on return. Alexsandr switched vehicles at the last minute and the detonation happened <1m from the festival, leading to widespread speculation he (or both) may have been the intended target.
For US readers a close proxy to help understand the complicated Putin-Dargin relationship is to compare it to similar relationships in Red and Blue spheres. For Red, former President Trump and Steve Bannon. Although Bannon’s ideas and influences have certainly shaped Trump’s worldview and politics, even to the extent of him holding a role in the Trump White House; Bannon’s direct influence has waned after a falling out. For the Blue, former President Obama and Robert Reich, who both served in his administration and continues to be a powerful social media presence advocating progressive ideas within the Obama-vein. On both Red and Blue, even though neither Bannon nor Reich have direct influence in the White House any longer – an assassniation of them or their family members could not be divorced from their connection with the Trump and Obama brand of politics respectively.
This morning the Russian FSB intelligence service is claiming to have ‘solved’ the case. They allege Ukrainian special forces hired a contract mother-daughter team who entered Russia in mid-July and lived in Darya Dugin’s building to track her movements. The FSB has also claimed that this team has now fled to Estonia.
At this early stage, it’s impossible to verify the FSB allegations though < 24 hours is a short time to put together a multi-month targeted assassination. By way of comparison, the 2018 poisoning of Sergei & Yulia Skripal in the UK and 2010 targeted assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai both took ~30 days to uncover the full plot. And in both cases, exacting detail of the assassin’s movements into, and out of the country, with confirming evidence was provided. Ukraine has denied any involvement.
There are two key implications of the attack and the FSB allegations of responsibility. First, whoever committed the attack showed that high-profile individuals can be targeted by car bombs in and around Moscow. This may raise security concerns as the war drags on – either that local actors or Ukrainian infiltrators can “reach out and touch” key Russian regime supporters and figures. Second, is the implication of Estonia as a sheltering-country for the alleged fleeing assassins. Russia has threatened Estonia for years and its border is one of the most heavily militarized zones in eastern Europe outside of Ukraine itself. Estonia has been a champion of stronger anti-Russian measures by both NATO and EU in Ukraine. In return Russian provocations aimed at Estonia have accelerated in the last few months. These include simulated ballistic missile exercises targeting Estonia and airspace incursion by Russian aircraft. Whether false flag or real, the FSB allegations give Putin a justification for demands to Estonia that can be used to at best further attempt to diplomatically divide EU and NATO support for Ukraine and at worst justify a retaliation of some form (economic or military) against Estonia.
As for the allegation of Ukrainian involvement, I’m not sure that’s as crucial. Regardless of Ukraine’s involvement Russia has limited options for retaliation with a country it’s already in a stalemated war with. And it’s unlikely Putin is going to climb the escalation ladder further with Ukraine over this.
Most likely – outside of the Estonia factor – Russian reaction to this will be as a justification for additional security sweeps, arrests, and other oppressive measures against regime opposition (Navalny) or anti-war groups in Russia. It may also lead to accelerated death sentences in show trials for captured Ukrainian POWs.