what we know

Who Really Killed Darya Dugina?

The car bombing has quickly become a Moscow murder mystery.

Russian investigators working the scene of the bombing Sunday. Photo: Russian Investigative Committee
Russian investigators working the scene of the bombing Sunday. Photo: Russian Investigative Committee

On Saturday night in Russia, a powerful bomb exploded inside a vehicle carrying Darya Dugina, the 29-year-old daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, a prominent ultranationalist philosopher and ally of President Vladimir Putin. They both had just attended an event on the outskirts of Moscow but left in separate vehicles, and it is believed the bomb might have been meant for him.

The bombing has reportedly stunned Moscow’s political elite and raised many eyebrows among Kremlin watchers abroad. Russia has now blamed Ukraine for the bombing, while Kyiv has denied any involvement. Amid fears the bombing will spur Russia to escalate its war in Ukraine, speculation both in and outside Russia continues to run rampant about who was behind the plot and their motives. Below is what we know.

The bombing.

According to Russian authorities and media reports, on Saturday night, Dugina and Dugin attended a nationalist festival on the outskirts of Moscow. When they left the event to return to Moscow, Dugin made a last-minute decision to ride in another vehicle. At around 9 p.m. local time, the Toyota Land Cruiser Dugina was driving exploded on a highway near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy, some 12 miles west of Moscow. Dugina, who was apparently the sole occupant of the vehicle, was killed instantly.

Russian authorities said the cause of the blast was an explosive device that had been attached under the vehicle on the driver’s side. On Monday, a law-enforcement official told the state-run TASS media outlet that the bomb was detonated remotely. A friend of the family, Andrei Krasnov, told TASS that the Land Cruiser belonged to her father. “Dasha drives another car, but she drove his car today, and Aleksandr went separately,” he said, referring to Dugina and speculating that the bomb had been intended for Dugin or perhaps both him and his daughter.

A video of the immediate aftermath later shared on social media shows smoking vehicle parts strewn across the highway and the vehicle itself engulfed in flames on the side of the road.

Another video appears to show Dugin at the scene himself, watching in shock as the SUV is consumed by fire. Some Russian media reports said the car he was in had been driving behind his daughter when her vehicle exploded. At a memorial service Tuesday, Dugin said she died in front of his eyes.

Russia has blamed the bombing on Ukraine, which denies any involvement.

On Monday — a little more than 36 hours after the incident — Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, claimed it had swiftly finished its investigation and concluded Ukraine’s intelligence services were responsible. The FSB said the bomb had been planted by a Ukrainian woman who, traveling with her 12-year-old daughter, came to Moscow in late July and rented an apartment in the same building Dugina lived in “in order to organize the murder of Dugina and obtain information about her lifestyle.” The FSB said the woman attended the nationalist festival Saturday, then fled the country by car over the border with Estonia. It released purported security footage of the woman both in Moscow and at the Russian border and claimed that Dugina, not her father, was the intended target.

Ukraine has denied any involvement in the bombing. “Ukraine definitely has nothing to do with this because we are not a criminal state, which the Russian Federation is, and even more so, we are not a terrorist state,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Sunday in an interview on Ukrainian television. On Monday, he called the FSB allegation “propaganda” from a “fictional world.”

Others suspect the bombing may have been a false-flag operation.

There has also been plenty of speculation that the bombing was perpetrated by the FSB, which has allegedly carried out numerous assassinations inside and outside Russia in recent decades. As the New York Times noted Monday, “the agency is less a serious law enforcement agency than a political tool. And like its Soviet-era predecessor, the K.G.B., the F.S.B. has been dogged for years by suspicions that it blames others for crimes it either committed itself, or had no real interest in solving because they involved well-connected Russians it dared not touch.”

As far as why Dugina would have been targeted, one school of thought supposes that the killing, and the naming of Ukraine as the culprit, was intended to drum up support among Russians for a wider war in Ukraine — including a general mobilization of the population. Another theory supposes that opponents of the war, possibly including within the FSB, may have wanted Dugin and/or Dugina dead.

As Syracuse University Russia expert Brian Taylor explained to Vox, determining who inside Russia may be responsible for the bombing and why may not be possible:

I think it’s more likely there’s some kind of internal Russian explanation for the murder. But even then, there are a whole range of possible candidates with a whole range of possible motives. Sometimes these things in Russian politics are political; sometimes they’re economic; sometimes it’s a combination of the two. The explanations in terms of politics go from false flag effort by the government to opponent of the government. So you’ve got a whole constellation of different possible explanations and motives. And as far as I can tell, so far this early, we just don’t have enough evidence to say which of those seems most credible.

Taylor also said he was very skeptical that Ukraine perpetrated the bombing in terms of capability or motive, noting, “If the Ukrainian secret services are capable of carrying out assassinations near Moscow, it’s not obvious to me why either Dugina or Dugin would be who they would go after.”

A former Russian lawmaker says an armed anti-Putin resistance group conducted the bombing.

On Sunday, a former member or Russia’s parliament now living in exile in Ukraine claimed that an armed Russian resistance group called the National Republican Army was responsible for the bombing. According to the ex-lawmaker, Ilya Ponomarev, the underground group is working inside Russia to target and topple Putin and his allies and wasn’t only behind the car bombing but “many other partisan actions carried out on the territory of Russia in recent months.” Both the Associated Press and The Guardian were unable to verify Ponomarev’s claims or, for that matter, that such a group even existed.

Ponomarev was the only member of the Duma to vote against Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. He later left the country and now lives in Kyiv, where he operates opposition YouTube and Telegram channels.

Who was Darya Dugina?

A nationalist journalist and television commentator who has been a staunch public advocate of Russian expansion and the war in Ukraine, Dugina was sanctioned by the U.S. in March. She has appeared as a pundit on RT, was a commentator and former editor at the nationalist TV channel Tsargrad, and was the chief editor of United World International, which the U.S. has labeled a source of disinformation.

Putin praised Dugina in a letter released Monday, calling her “a bright, talented person with a real Russian heart” whose life was ended by a “vile, cruel crime” — though he made no mention of who was behind it.

Who is Aleksandr Dugin?

Dugin is an anti-liberal and ultranationalist ideologue and propagandist who has long advocated for Russia to rebuild its authoritarian Soviet-era strength and global influence. As the Washington Post explains:

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 does not 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.

In that 1997 book, Dugin wrote that “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning” and that its ambitions to be a state posed a threat to Russia, a point which has been echoed in more recent arguments against Ukraine’s existence by Putin and others. As The Guardian’s Pjotr Sauer notes, many believe Dugin’s views formed an ideological blueprint for Russia’s theft of Crimea in 2014 and, this year, the full invasion of Ukraine.

Media coverage has often referred to Dugin as “Putin’s brain” or the Russian president’s “spiritual adviser” — but many Russia analysts have argued that his supposed influence on Putin and Russia’s domestic politics is vastly overestimated and more a product of the otherwise fringe ideologue’s talent for self-promotion than anything else.

This year, Dugin has not only been a staunch advocate for the war against Ukraine but has repeatedly called for much more aggressive tactics in the war. He did so again Monday. In a statement attributed to Dugin, he called the bombing an “act of terror” by Ukraine and said, “Our hearts yearn for more than just revenge or retribution … We only need our victory. My daughter laid her maiden life on its altar. So win, please!”

Dugin, who has been a target of U.S. sanctions more than once, has also aligned himself with and supported anti-western and far-right movements abroad in China, Iran, and Turkey as well as in Austria, France, and Italy, according to the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman.

Who Really Killed Darya Dugina?