Death of a Russian ultranationalist

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it is usually the political moderates who are afflicted by diseases, “accidents” and sudden and extravagant assassinations. Whether it’s the murder of dissidents such as human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in 2015, or the poisoning of anti-corruption figure Alexei Navalny with a fourth-generation chemical weapon, a constant parade of Russian death and incapacitation liberals generally pointed to the same thing: tighter state controls, less tolerance for dissent, and more political repression.

What then of the spectacularly violent car bomb that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of neo-fascist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, and budding ultranationalist in her own right? And was Dugin himself the real target, given that it was reported that he changed cars at the last minute?

Was this a pretext for Putin to intensify his war in Ukraine? His security services attributed the blow to an alleged member of the infamous Ukrainian Azov regiment. In less than 36 hours, Russia’s security services, the FSB, had concocted a fantastic story involving long surveillance, an ID card that was almost certainly simulatedand a cunning escape of the alleged killer to Estonia – with his young daughter (and, apparently, his cat) in tow.

The truth is, we’re unlikely to find out for sure who really killed Darya Dugina.

Or was it the FSB itself behind the murder? If so, which FSB was responsible? Could it have been a rogue anti-Putin faction trying to confuse him? Or a pro-Putin faction seeking to give the Russian president a means of keep the ultranationalists in lineor build support for its undeclared wars against Ukraine and the West?

Was the murder linked to organized crime? Alternatively, did the fact that a previously unknown terrorist organization (the National Republican Army) claimed responsibility signal a new internal struggle against the Russian leader himself?

The truth is, we’re unlikely to find out for sure who really killed Darya Dugina. The FSB allegations have been widely dismissed, including by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, who dismissed allegations that his country was involved as a Russian “provocation”. Few experts believe that the “National Republican Army” was to blame, or that it would have much capacity to carry out terror campaigns linked to its ostensibly anti-Putin agenda.

And the FSB naturally sticks to its story.

For his part, Dugina’s father, Aleksandr, claimed after his death that the “front line” had shifted to Russia proper. A familiar list of Russian nationalists attended his funeral: from Konstantin Malofeev, the founder of the pro-monarchist Tsargrad television station where the two Dugins worked; to Leonid Slutsky, leader of the ultra-conservative Liberal Democratic Party of Russia; and “Putin boss” Yevgenyi Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group PMC and head of Russia’s “Project Lakhta,” for whom Darya Dugina served as editor-in-chief of the United World International propaganda channel.

And although Putin himself has not publicly commented on the murder, the Kremlin issued a statement of condolences and posthumously awarded Dugina the Order of Courage.

A handout photo believed to be the scene of a car explosion on Moscow’s Mozhayskoye highway that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of Alexander Dugin (Russian Investigative Committee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Dugina’s murder certainly sent Russia’s ultraconservatives into a frenzy. On Russian social media, Dugina is branded a martyr, amid calls for “Russian professionals who want to admire spiers around Tallinn” – a thinly veiled reference to the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with the Novichok chemical weapon in Salisbury, probably by Russian GRU unit 29155. Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed separatist leader, called the Ukrainian government “terrorists” who had “tried to liquidate Aleksandr Dugin but blew up his daughter”. Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, has demanded the removal of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a call repeated by Russia Today editor Margarita Simonyan, who has advocated strikes against Ukrainian “decision-making centers”.

Dugin and his daughter are probably better known in very conservative Western online circles than in their home countries.

That said, it would be a mistake to claim that Dugin or his daughter are prominent members of the Kremlin elite close to Putin. Neither are household names in Russia, no matter how much Dugin liked to portray himself as “Putin’s brain” or as his muse.

In fact, he and his daughter are probably better known in very conservative Western online circles than in their home countries. As Gideon Rachman pointed out, Dugin has ties to the French National Rally, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Italian League. American far-right figure Richard Spencer is also linked to Dugin: Spencer’s wife translated Dugin’s works into English. When Dugin was interviewed by Alex Joneshe called on supporters of Donald Trump and Putin to unite against “globalists”, itself a code word for New World Order conspiracy theorists, and often used to refer to Jewish elites seeking to dismantle the traditional western societies.

While Putin briefly found Dugin useful, using him to stoke nationalist fervor in his calls to “kill, kill, kill” Ukrainians in 2014, there is no evidence the pair ever met. Indeed, Dugin has remained a largely marginal player since his early origins.

After his 1989 expulsion from Pamiat’ (Memory), an extremist organization dedicated to preserving Russian culture, Dugin co-founded the neo-fascist Russian National Bolshevik Party alongside avant-garde poet and author Eduard Limonov. Using Arktogaia, his own publishing house, Dugin launched his 1997 book Foundations of Geopolitics, who became particularly influential in the Russian army. In it he called for the unification of the Eurasian landmass under Russian leadership, which he saw as locked in an eternal struggle with the maritime United States and “its island ally, England”, necessitating the creation of a Moscow -Friendly and stable Berlin. axis to fight it.

After briefly serving as an adviser to Gennady Seleznev, the speaker of the Russian parliament, Dugin founded “Eurasia” in 2001, a political movement that brought together former military officers and members of Vympel, the KGB’s special operations unit. After being fired in 2014 for his views on Ukraine from the Faculty of Sociology at Moscow State University, Dugin became editor-in-chief of Tsargrad TV. With Malofeev’s support, he also created the Katehon think tank and the site: the former is an organization promoting Dugin’s political philosophy and inspired by the writings of Carl Schmitt, while the latter promotes his neo-Eurasian ideology and acts as a conduit for Russia’s information war against the West.

Dugin and his daughter are therefore better seen as amplifiers of Russian politics than as direct influencers of it. But questions about their significance in Russian politics, whether Darya Dugina’s assassination was actually intended to kill her father, or even who was responsible are ultimately less important than the effects of Dugina’s death.

And while the killing of a Russian ultranationalist is potentially trouble for Putin, hinting at an increasingly convoluted and fragmented power struggle in wartime Russia, the initial result has been to reinforce the message internal regime that there should be no mercy for Russia’s enemies, either internally or externally. The LDPR’s Slutsky summed it up at Dugina’s funeral, with his post-eulogy cry “One country!” A president ! A victory!” in a subtle echo of Nazi Germany’s “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Furhrer”.

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