Will Darya Dugina’s killing influence the Russia-Ukraine war?

The killing of ultranationalist Alexander Dugin’s daughter might ‘rattle the Kremlin’, experts say.

Darya Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian ultranationalist thought to be a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was killed in a car bomb blast outside Moscow in what may have been an assassination attempt on her father.

Dugina, 29, died after an explosive device detonated, destroying the Toyota Land Cruiser she was travelling in late on Saturday, investigators said in a statement.

Here is what we know about the incident and what it could mean for the war.

Who is Darya Dugina?

  • Dugina was a passionate supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and often espoused the views of her father, Alexander Dugin, in support of Russian imperialism on the nationalist TV channel Tsargrad but observers have noted she was not a widely-known figure.

  • Dugina was sanctioned by the United States in March for her work as chief editor of United World International, a website that Washington has described as a source of disinformation.

  • Her father is an ideologue who has long advocated for the unification of Russian-speaking regions and territories as part of a new Russian empire.

  • Dugin is believed to be an influential voice in shaping Putin’s world view and approach to Ukraine, although the extent of his sway on the Russian leader’s thinking is debated.

Was she the target?

  • Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported the father and daughter attended a cultural festival outside Moscow and decided to switch cars at the last minute.

  • State news agency TASS quoted Andrey Krasnov as saying the vehicle belonged to her father and the bombers probably intended to get at him.

  • However, Russian political analyst Dmitry Babich shed doubt on Dugin being the target, saying that Darya was “more popular than her father” at the time of the incident.

  • “Dugin in my mind is a very shady figure and I would not connect him directly to Putin, but this attack was certainly targeting Russian nationalists,” Babich told Al Jazeera. “It’s very possible that the murders were targeting Darya.”

Who is responsible for the attack?

  • Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the KGB, said the “crime was prepared and committed by Ukrainian special services”.

  • Kyiv denies involvement in the attack, with Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak calling the accusation “propaganda”.

  • The FSB said a Ukrainian citizen, Natalya Vovk, carried out the killing and then fled to Estonia. The FSB said Vovk and her 12-year-old daughter arrived in Russia in July and spent a month preparing for the attack by renting an apartment in the same housing block and researching Dugina’s lifestyle.

  • The intelligence agency also released security surveillance video of the alleged killer along with her military ID, claiming she belonged to Ukraine’s Azov regiment.

  • Some Russian opposition activists speculated the murder may have been orchestrated by forces inside Russia keen to discourage ultranationalists like Dugin from criticising the Kremlin for being, in their eyes, too soft on Ukraine.

Will this influence the Russia-Ukraine war?

  • “This is a terrorist act which will have a very negative impact because it will make the war between Russia and Ukraine much bloodier and much more violent because she [Darya] was loved by many,” Babich said.

  • Samuel Ramani from the Royal United Services Institute said the incident “will rattle the Kremlin if it was done by an external saboteur, but it won’t rattle the Kremlin so much if this was some kind of internal power struggle within the Russian security services between people who are trying to quash intellectuals like Dugin who might fan the flames for a faster, or more efficient, end to the war”.

  • Maximilian Hess, a Central Asia Fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that while it was unclear who had killed Dugina, “the Kremlin will use this [the killing] to double down its rhetoric on Ukraine. We have seen the Kremlin respond in that way to almost every incident now.”

Flowers and candles are placed next to a portrait of media commentator Darya Dugina, who was killed in a car bomb attack, in Moscow.
Flowers and candles are placed next to a portrait of media commentator Darya Dugina [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]