Last Saturday evening in Moscow, the daughter of the Russian philosopher and public figure Aleksandr Dugin, Daria “Dasha” Dugina, was killed in a car explosion. With few to no sources claiming that the explosion was purely the result of a fatal accident, it can only be concluded that this was an act of terrorist assassination. The only questions left to ask are who, and why?
The second question has a more obvious answer and can tell us something about the alleged perpetrators. The most immediate thing to come to mind is the quote frequently attributed to Aleksandr Dugin’s himself, “today’s Ukrainians are a race of degenerates that crawled up from the sewage. Genocide is in order.” The only solid source for this quote appears to be that it is a paraphrased translation of a 2014 social media post in which he states that “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots. A genocide of cretins is self-evident. Cretins who are malicious, closed to the voice of the Logos, deadly dangerous and… also incredibly stupid. I do not believe that these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are a beautiful Slavic people. They are some race of bastards that have emerged from the sewer manholes.”
While some could argue that this original post is more nuanced, it is still a violent expression of murderous intent towards those Ukrainians who politically diverge from Moscow’s line. Ukrainians are wonderful people so long as they support a Ukraine which remains in Russia’s sphere.
Beyond this is Dugin’s purported influence and power over Kremlin policy making. As tensions have escalated with Russia, many foreign policy pundits have taken to referring to the man as “Putin’s Brain” or the official “Kremlin ideologue”.
These claims have also been utilised by centrist and liberal-left pundits as political tensions have escalated within Western nations, as it provides a useful brush with which to tar the Populist Right as Russian-influenced patsies, since more extreme members have been connected with both Dugin’s ideas and Dugin himself.
In contrast to this some argue that Dugin’s actual power and influence in Russia itself is actually highly overstated. Neither the Kremlin nor any other large political actors made any move to prevent Dugin losing his position as a departmental head of the Moscow State University when he came under fire for his bellicosity in 2014.
Others have claimed that Dugin’s image as “Putin’s brain” or as a “Modern Rasputin” was itself a result of his own publicity campaign targeted towards Western audiences, among whom it is argued he actually has more influence than within Russia itself. Where Dugin has been influential in Russia is in his 1997 book “Foundations of Geopolitics”, which is still a core text for many Senior military staff in Russia.
Influence and comments aside, what is incontestable is Dugin’s status as a symbol for the intellectual backing for Russian militarism, and the rising aggression of other anti-Western Eurasian land powers. But why his daughter?
Certainly she is a lesser figure, yet one who mirrored her father in many ways. She was a journalist and a commentator on Russian media channels who acted as an outspoken ideologue for his theories of Eurasianism and the Fourth Political Theory.
Like him she also is noted to have made comments calling referring to Ukrainians as “subhumans” who must be conquered. This rhetoric also mirrors a broader dehumanising rhetoric of the Russian regime, which refers repeatedly to Ukrainian soldiers, and particularly Ukrainian military casualties as “pigs”.
However, the fact that the car did belong to Aleksander Dugin, and that a last minute change of plans saw her leave the “Tradition” conference which they had been attending in this car while he took another route home would suggest that her father had been the original intended target.
Who Killed Daria Dugin?
The question then remains as to who the perpetrator or perpetrators were. The FSB, Russia’s internal security service and the heir to the Soviet Union’s KGB, has lost little time in announcing the identity of the killer as being a 44 year old woman who is an alleged member of the Ukrainian Secret Service.
The suspect was reported to have fled across the border into Estonia shortly after the killing, and there are now reports that she has been seen in Vienna. Russian pundits are also reporting that she was affiliated with the extreme ultranationalist Azov battalion. Before confronting the potential issues with this narrative, its feasibility must be addressed.
The first thing to mention is that the single biggest ethnic group in Russia after the Russians themselves are Ukrainians. Since the beginning of hostilities in 2014 it is estimated that there are 2.4 million Ukrainians in Russia. While a great number of these are Russian-speaking or Russia-Sympathetic Ukrainians (indeed a great many are refugees of the Donbass region who have been fleeing to Russia since 2014), the presence of Ukrainians in Russia has a long history.
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians and Russians had freely moved across each other’s countries for centuries. While Russian nationalists highlight the settling of ethnic Russians in Crimea and the Donbass, it should be noted that during the Russian Empire Ukrainians settled the Don region and the Kuban peninsula as well as many provinces and cities in Siberia and the far east.
While the overwhelming majority of these Ukrainians are law-abiding citizens, and many likely fear the repressive hand of the Russian government, it is not insane to assume that among them there are ultranationalist elements (as there often are in ethnic minorities which have been subject to historical oppression) with links to either Ukraine or Ukrainian factions.
Virtually since the beginning of the war the FSB has repeatedly reported the foiling of would-be terror attacks accompanied with arrests of members of the Right Sector movement, a Ukrainian ultranationalist organisation and political movement.
While the Russian media highly over exaggerates the size, strength, and influence of organisations such as Azov and Right Sector, the fact that the latter’s volunteer battalion has had over 50 volunteers from Russia and Belarus underpins a cultural and political reality, that there is a great fluidity of movement, and of political factions and affiliations across the post-Soviet space.
This fluidity of movement strongly adheres to the official Russian narrative being reported by the FSB, which claims that the suspected woman crossed into Russia in April, driving a car with the registration plate of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and claiming to be a refugee from the conflict. Western sources are claiming that the circulating images of the woman’s Ukrainian military ID are fake, while other sources claim that older evidence has surfaced of her previous affiliations with not just the Ukrainian military but the Azov units in particular.
A fair objection is why the Ukrainian government would permit such an attack, granted the retaliation it is liable to provoke from Russia. However it is important to see that Ukraine is not in a strong position in the war at the moment.
With its own cities under bombardment it is possible that it has already demonstrated a willingness to attack Russian soil. When Russian aggression kills Ukrainian civilians, it’s safe to assume that elements of either the Ukrainian security service, military, and nationalist movements (and most likely rogue elements of these, for, even in war, no nation is a single homogenous actor) see little reason not to respond in kind.
In contrast to this narrative Western and pro-Ukrainian voices have raised the possibility that the killing is in fact a false-flag operation by the Russian regime. And while the pro-Russian voices dismiss this immediately as being pure conspiracy theory there is both plenty of motivation to believe the regime has done so. The quantity of information on the suspect and the speed with which it has been released is certainly questionable, and you would wonder that, if the security services knew this much already, why could this attack not have been prevented? Although the frequency of such incompetent moments in even the most seasoned security services cannot be underestimated.
For one, the death of Daria Dugin gives the Kremlin a martyr, and a martyr gives a precedent. A precedent to further escalate conflict against the government in Kyiv, and a precedent to further clampdown on internal opposition. A martyr also grants inspiration to a country which appears to be stuck in a taxing and stalemated conflict, and, if played correctly, might even create the necessary emotional and moral energy for the mass mobilisation which some claim Moscow needs to win the war.
Also, if we accept that Dugin is not as influential as he and others claim he is, then it makes sense that the Kremlin would be willing to sacrifice him. The convenience of sacrificing ideologues to make martyr-priests of them has been of great use to past causes, both in the power it lends to the cause, and in removing a potential thorn in the side of the future regime.
One such example was the utilisation of the republican execution of José Antonio Primo de Rivera by Franco to inspire the nationalist cause in the Spanish Civil War, an incident in which Franco’s tacit complicity is still speculated on to this day.
Granted that Russia to all intents and purposes operates as a Mafia state, the willingness to work with such a level of brutality should not be surprising.
A Death in a Post-Truth War
Perhaps the most profound casualty of this car bomb is the truth itself. The question of the ethics of killing a declared civilian who also is a bellicose propagandist for violent and destructive regime, and the potential for the spiraling violence it may or may not justify, becomes a mess which can’t be easily unentangled, but the only thing which can be truly drawn from this event is that Daria Dugin is dead.
Dugin’s own philosophy, his Fourth Political Theory, begins with the deeply post-modernist premise that there is no real objective truth, or at least that objective truth is difficult to ever truly know, and that it is highly relative based on which biased party is talking.
Speaking in 2016 in a BBC interview on the subject of Russia’s intervention in Syria, Dugin told his interviewer that “we have our special Russian truth.” He said, to paraphrase, that if the interviewer insisted on his “Western truth”, that Russia was upholding a murderous dictator and targeting civilians, he would insist on his “Russian truth”, that they were actually upholding the legitimate Syrian government and defending its people against an onslaught of Islamist terrorism.
Dugin’s philosophy is incredibly mixed, ambiguous, and even downright schizophrenic in places. Supporters can, and tend to see whatever they want to see in Dugin’s work, and detractors can also see whatever they want to hate in it too. Yet there is in this moment a realisation of his premise, that the truth is dissolving as an international commons, and in its place a multipolarity of truths is being raised up. Once again there are ethical questions on this matter, but unfortunately this is an increasing reality which we must deal with as we go forwards.
Dugin was hospitalised for a heart attack following the death of his daughter; he was present at its scene. In the meantime Russia has pushed ahead with its narrative that this assassination was a terrorist act which was as good as committed by the Kyiv government. Recovering the next day, Dugin issued a statement lamenting Daria’s death; “We want only our Victory. My daughter laid her maiden life on its altar. So, be victorious!” In the face of immense personal tragedy, he has persisted in his “Russian truth”, even though there are other suspects than those the FSB announces, on whom we can only speculate. You could say there is a savage poignancy to this, only it is far too bitter.