Russia has accused Ukraine of being behind the assassination near Moscow of Daria Dughina, the daughter of Russian ultranationalist intellectual Aleksandr Dughin, whose ideas are found in the politics currently promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is a hypothesis considered by Western experts in the field of secret services to be both possible and unlikely.
Daria Dughina (29 years old) was killed in the explosion of her car, under which a bomb had been placed.
Kiev rejected Russian accusations that a Ukrainian woman stalked it, and then eliminated Dughina, after which she fled to Estonia.
On the assumption that they could have done it: ‘Could we have transferred 400 grams of TNT to Russia? Theoretically, yes. Could we have made a bomb? Yes’, says a senior official from the Ukrainian secret services, on the condition of anonymity.
But what good? Nobody in Ukraine really knows who Dughin is. Who would know about his daughter? Killing her makes no sense’, he claims.
Since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014, Ukraine has had time to develop clandestine (resistance) networks on the territory of the neighboring country.
“I think that since March there is a Ukrainian structure installed in Russia, a logistical and (…) operational structure,” says Gerald Arboit, an expert in information services at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM).
Kiev also benefits from ‘American and British advisers’. But, for such a project, actions of recognition, tracking (of the target) and bringing a team to the field to carry out the operation were necessary. A single person could not be responsible for both recognition and the operational side’, adds the quoted expert, mentioning the possibility of support from some Russian opposition groups.
In fact, such an operation is especially complex in a context of open war. “The assassination of Daria Dughina took place in Moscow, an area where the Ukrainian services could hardly reach”, says Colin Clarke, director of research at the Soufan Center, a think-tank in New York.
He considers this hypothesis unlikely, taking into account, however, that “Ukrainian special forces or intelligence agents are probably capable of such an attack.”
Counterproductive for Zelensky
The interviewed experts reveal that the assassination of the daughter of a personality, who certainly supports President Vladimir Putin, but not necessarily very influential, serves the Kremlin leader’s cause. In fact, it may cause a strong feeling of rejection, which would fuel, if necessary, the justifications for a general mobilization in Russia.
“I do not rule out that Dughina was killed by the Russians in order to develop the war in Ukraine in an unconventional way”, says, on condition of anonymity, an official from the French intelligence community.
A targeted assassination, especially of a young woman, would also be counterproductive for the image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is counting on his sympathy capital to get the Western military aid he needs against Moscow’s forces.
“I don’t see the reason for such an operation for the Ukrainians, which is extremely complicated to put into practice. And I don’t see the Americans and the British letting them do something like that’, says Alexander Grinberg, analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategy in Jerusalem (JISS).
“Everything looks like a manipulation by the FSB to weaken Kiev. Especially since Dughin has no real influence in the Kremlin’, he adds.
Possible operation ‘performed by another entity’
Colin Clarke confirms that a symbolic assassination carried out by Kyiv would probably not target this type of target and suspects an operation ‘conducted by another entity’, including from inside Russia.
In any case, the Russian accusations are without substance, believes Alexandre Papaemmanuel, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and an expert in the intelligence services.
You may be surprised by a narrative delivered extremely quickly by the Russian services. In general, in the case of a political assassination, investigations take a long time to produce results’, he notes, noting a very intense Russian and pro-Russian propaganda on this subject.
Nathan Sales, Soufan Group’s intelligence advisor, refrains from discussing the case specifically, but admits he is ‘skeptical’ about the Russian version. “We know that Putin’s regime has assassinated Russian citizens in the past for the benefit of its perverse domestic and foreign political agendas,” he declared.
Beyond the fact that Natalia Vovk, the Ukrainian to whom the FSB attributes the assassination of Daria Dughina, comes from Mariupol – the Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov currently under Russian control after a three-month siege – managed to successfully pass the Russian filtering centers by part of the Azov regiment, according to the Russian version, this assassination took place not far from the residence of President Vladimir Putin in Novo-Ogariovo, notes Ivan Zhdanov, one of the collaborators of the opponent Aleksei Navalnyi, on the Populiarnaia Politica channel on YouTube. His conclusion is that the FSB has put itself in a bad light, proving its incompetence since the Ukrainian secret services can carry out an attack only a few kilometers from the residence of the Russian president.