Car explosion kills daughter of Putin ally Alexander Dugin, Russia says

Investigative Committee of Russia via AP
In this handout photo taken from video released by Investigative Committee of Russia on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, investigators work on the site of explosion of a car driven by Daria Dugina outside Moscow.

The daughter of Alexander Dugin, a far-right Russian nationalist who helped shape the Kremlin’s narrative about Ukraine, was killed Saturday when the car she was driving exploded near Moscow, according to Russia’s main investigative authority.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was looking into the incident and had opened a criminal murder case.

A Toyota Land Cruiser “went off at full speed on a public highway” and caught fire, it said, after an “explosive device planted under the bottom of the car on the driver’s side” blew up. The driver, identified by the committee as “journalist and political scientist Daria Dugina,” died at the scene. It said early evidence pointed to “a murder for hire.”

Dugina, 29, was driving her father’s car from a festival they both attended when the blast occurred, engulfing the car in flames, Dugin’s friend Andrey Krasnov told the state-run media outlet Tass. Krasnov said she “was driving another car but she took his car today.” He said he believed her father was the target of an attack, “or maybe the two of them.”

Dugin built his reputation on the premise that Russia’s destiny was to lead a united “Eurasia” to thwart the global ambitions of the United States. He has often been credited with influencing the Kremlin’s thinking on Russian expansion and Ukraine. His 600-plus-page 1997 tome, “Foundations of Geopolitics,” in which he espouses his nationalist theories, has been described as required reading among Russian military and foreign policy elites.

His links to Russian President Vladimir Putin are the source of speculation and occasional overstatement, and the extent of their direct relationship, if any, is unclear. Although he doesn’t hold an official government position, Dugin has long called for the reabsorption of Ukraine into Russia – and experts say his language and expansionist views of Russia’s place in the world have been echoed by the Kremlin and in recent speeches by Putin.

But in 2015, Dugin was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor claiming that decision-making in the Kremlin was “obscure” even to him. “Nobody, not even top officials, know for sure who or what Putin is listening to,” he said. “Anything anyone tells you about how Putin decides things is either disinformation, or error.”

“Dugin is definitely anti-American, anti-liberal, anti-Western,” said Anton Shekhovtsov, director of the Vienna-based Center for Democratic Integrity. “But the Kremlin or Putin do not need Dugin to be anti-American and anti-Western.”

Dugin’s daughter has also spoken publicly in support of the war in Ukraine and Russian expansion. In March, she was designated for sanctions by the United States as part of a list of Russian elites and Russian intelligence-directed disinformation outlets, alongside her father, who has faced sanctions since 2015. Britain also imposed sanctions on her in July for her support of Russia’s invasion.

In public comments and interviews, she has cited her father’s theories in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which she described as “a clash” of Eurasian and U.S.-led civilizations.

Krasnov told Tass that “the car caught fire immediately [following the explosion]. She lost control, because she was driving at speed, and flew to the opposite side of the road.”

Krasnov said Dugin, who left the festival in a different vehicle, returned to the scene after the explosion. Videos circulating on social media appear to show a visibly distraught Dugin standing on a road strewn with debris, holding his head in his hands. The remains of a car were in flames on the roadside.

The blast occurred about 9 p.m. local time near the village of Bolshie Vyazyomy, southwest of Moscow, the committee said. Investigators were dispatched to the scene and seized evidence, including dash-cam footage, while an explosives expert examined the burned car in a specialized parking lot, the committee said Sunday.

The incident appeared poised to create a new flashpoint.

Denis Pushilin, a prominent separatist leader and key figure in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, immediately blamed Ukraine for Dugina’s death, without providing any evidence.

Ukrainian officials denied any involvement in the blast and suggested it could be the result of an internal dispute within Russia. “As far as yesterday’s [death of Daria Dugina] goes, I emphasize that we certainly had nothing to do with it,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Sunday on Ukrainian television.

“We don’t even comment on this, because it is not an interesting topic for the Ukrainian special services,” Andrii Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine’s chief directorate of military intelligence, told The Washington Post on Sunday. Yusov added that Dugina was not someone Ukrainian military intelligence “would make any official statements” about.

Still, Yusov noted that “I can say that the process of internal destruction of the ‘Russky Mir,’ or ‘the Russian world,’ has begun” and predicted that “the Russian world will eat and devour itself from the inside.”

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said Sunday that if Ukraine were found to have been involved in Dugina’s death, “we should talk about the policy of state terrorism implemented by the Kyiv regime.” She said Pushilin’s allegations “must be verified by the competent authorities.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that lawmakers have not been briefed on the incident or who was behind it. “There are so many factions and internecine warfare within Russian society, within the Russian government, anything is possible,” he said.

“I certainly hope that if it was an attack on either one of those people, that it was an internal Russian affair and it wasn’t something emanating from Ukraine. We have seen terrible war crimes by Russia against Ukraine, and Russia should be held accountable. And I certainly would never want to see anything like an attack on civilians by Ukraine and hope that their representations are correct.”

The British Treasury Department described Dugina in its sanctions list as a “frequent and high-profile contributor of disinformation in relation to Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on various online platforms.”

The U.S. Treasury Department, in imposing sanctions on Dugina, said she was the chief editor of a disinformation website called United World International, which had suggested that Ukraine would “perish” if it were admitted to NATO. The website was developed by a Russian political influence operation called “Project Lakhta,” which Treasury officials say has used fictitious online personas to interfere in U.S. elections since at least 2014.

According to Treasury officials, Dugina’s father was first designated in 2015 for “being responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Dugin was a leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, which Treasury officials said “actively recruited individuals with military and combat experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic,” a separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine that has played a central role in Putin’s justification for war.

In an interview with a Russian YouTuber in March, Dugina said that Ukrainian identity is mostly localized in western Ukraine, and that eastern Ukraine – including the Donbas region – was likely to accept a “Eurasian Empire” on the basis of religious faith and nationality.