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It’s a killing that has “sent shockwaves through the Russian elite”, said Anastasia Tenisheva in The Moscow Times. On the evening of Saturday 20 August, Daria Dugina was making her way back from the “Tradition” festival, an event near Moscow that featured pro-Kremlin speakers. Among them was her father, Aleksandr Dugin, a leading ultranationalist philosopher who is widely thought to have influenced President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Dugin and his daughter had been due to travel home together – but Dugin made a “last-minute decision to ride in another vehicle”, said Chas Danner in New York Magazine. Minutes later, at about 9pm local time, a “powerful bomb” planted beneath the Toyota Land Cruiser his daughter was driving exploded 12 miles west of Moscow. Dugina, the vehicle’s sole occupant, “was killed instantly”.
Her father, who was close behind and appears to have been the “intended target”, could only look on as the car his daughter was driving was “consumed by fire”. At a memorial attended by hundreds of people three days later, Dugin said his daughter “died in front of his eyes”, and hailed her a “martyr” whose death would spur Russia on to victory in Ukraine.
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Moscow was quick to point the finger of blame at Kyiv, said Boris Sokolov in The Day (Kyiv), accusing its special forces of organising the murder and naming Natalia Vovk, a Ukrainian, as the suspected killer. Russia’s FSB security service alleged that Vovk had entered Russia with her 12-year-old daughter in July, renting a flat in the building where Dugina lived in order to shadow her.
Pro-Kremlin media said she was part of Ukraine’s nationalist Azov battalion, which Russia accuses of “Nazism”, and that she fled to Estonia with her daughter after the killing. But Ukraine denied involvement, and Russia’s version of events doesn’t stack up. Dugin – let alone Dugina – is of little interest to Kyiv: it has bigger fish to fry. Besides, why would Vovk travel with her daughter if she were planning a risky assassination bid?
There are plenty of theories about the killing, said Moritz Gathmann in Cicero (Berlin). Some say it was a “false flag” operation by the FSB itself; others claim that it was the work of the National Republican Army, “partisans” who are apparently fighting an “armed struggle against Putin’s system”, and may have wanted to take out his chief ideologue.
Alexandr Dugin has been called “Putin’s brain”, said Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg (New York). That’s an overstatement, but it’s true that ultranationalists such as Dugin – who used to be seen as cranks, airing their “exotic beliefs” on obscure websites – are having their moment in the sun. He has been calling for the annexation of Crimea and the annihilation of Ukraine for decades. And since Putin’s occupation of Crimea in 2014, the writings of such “nationalist philosophers” have become fashionable.
Even before 2014, he wanted Ukraine to be “returned to its original Russian orbit or obliterated”, said Kate Levchuk in the Kyiv Post. Since then, he’s amplified his rhetoric – calling for war and the killing of Ukrainians. He has forged links with nationalist parties in Europe, and seen his work become required reading for Russian military officials.
Dugin is certainly a strange character, said Tom Nichols in The Atlantic (New York), part of a “weird strain” of nationalism “that somehow manages to venerate Russian Orthodoxy, Stalin, the Nazis and the occult, all at the same time”. Underpinning it all is a belief that Russia – “specifically white, Christian Russia” – is destined to rule Eurasia and contest “world domination” with the “decadent Americans and Europeans”. But he isn’t a presence in the Kremlin, where he’s seen as “unstable and potentially embarrassing”; nor has he ever held a government post. He isn’t even known to have met Putin in person.
Yet the violence he has condoned for years now appears to have claimed “collateral damage” in the form of his daughter, said Max Pam in De Volkskrant (Amsterdam). War in Ukraine has led to “thousands of deaths. Darya Dugina is just one of them.”
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