Investigators work on the site of explosion of a car driven by Daria Dugina outside Moscow. Image Credit: Investigative Committee of Russia via AP

Moscow:  The daughter of Alexander Dugin, a far-right Russian nationalist who helped shape the ideas behind President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine, was killed on Saturday when the car she was driving exploded near Moscow, according to Russia’s main investigative authority.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was looking into the incident and had opened a criminal murder case.

A Toyota Land Cruiser “went off at full speed on a public highway” and caught fire, it said, after an “explosive device planted under the bottom of the car on the driver’s side” blew up. The driver, identified by the committee as “journalist and political scientist Daria Dugina,” died at the scene. It said early evidence pointed to “a murder for hire”,

Daria in a file photo. Image Credit: Reuters

Daria, 29, was driving her father’s car from a festival they both attended when the blast occurred, engulfing the car in flames, Daria’s friend Andrey Krasnov told the state-run media outlet Tass. Krasnov said he believed her father was the target of an attack, “or maybe the two of them”.

Dugin, a scathing critic of the United States, with close ties to the Kremlin, is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s Rasputin” or “Putin’s brain”. Although he doesn’t hold an official government position, and the extent of his direct relationship with Putin is not clear, 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.

His daughter has also spoken publicly in support of the war in Ukraine and Russian expansion. In March, she was sanctioned by the United States as part of a list of Russian elites and Russian intelligence-directed disinformation outlets, alongside her father who has been designated for sanctions since 2015. She was also sanctioned by the United Kingdom in July for her support of Russia’s attacks.

“The car caught fire immediately [following the explosion]. She lost control, because she was driving at speed, and flew to the opposite side of the road,” Krasnov told the Russian state media outlet Tass, describing it as a “very grave event.”

Krasnov said Dugin, who left the festival in a different vehicle, returned to the scene after the explosion. Videos circulating on social media appear to show a visibly distraught Dugin standing on a road strewn with debris, holding his head in his hands. The remains of a car were in flames on the roadside. The Washington Post was not immediately able to independently verify the videos.

Dugin, who left the festival in a different vehicle, returned to the scene after the explosion. Image Credit: Reuters

New flashpoint?

The blast occurred about 9pm local time near the village of Bolshie Vyazyomy, southwest of Moscow, the committee said. Investigators were dispatched to the scene and seized evidence, including dash cam footage, while an explosives expert examined the burnt car in a specialised parking lot, the committee said Sunday.

The incident appeared poised to create a new flashpoint.

Denis Pushilin, a prominent separatist leader and key figure in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, immediately blamed Ukraine for Daria’s death, without providing any evidence.

Ukrainian officials denied any involvement in the blast and suggested it could be the result of an internal dispute within Russia. “As far as yesterday’s [death of Daria Dugina] goes, I emphasise that we certainly had nothing to do with it,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Sunday on Ukrainian television.

“We don’t even comment on this, because it is not an interesting topic for the Ukrainian special services,” Andrii Yusov, spokesperson for Ukraine’s chief directorate of military intelligence, told The Washington Post on Sunday. Yusov added that Dugina was not someone Ukrainian military intelligence “would make any official statements” about.

Still, Yusov noted that “I can say that the process of internal destruction of the ‘Russky Mir,’ or ‘the Russian world,’ has begun” and predicted that “the Russian world will eat and devour itself from the inside.”

Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said Sunday that if Ukraine were found to have been involved in Daria’s death, “we should talk about the policy of state terrorism implemented by the Kyiv regime.” She said Pushilin’s allegations “must be verified by the competent authorities.”

The UK Treasury Department described Daria in its sanctions list as a “frequent and high-profile contributor of disinformation in relation to Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on various online platforms.”

The US Treasury Department, upon sanctioning Daria, said she was the chief editor of a disinformation website called United World International, which had suggested that Ukraine would “perish” if it was admitted to Nato The website was developed by a Russian political influence operation called “Project Lakhta,” which Treasury officials say has used fictitious online personas to interfere in US elections since at least 2014.

According to Treasury officials, Daria’s father was first designated in 2015 for “being responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Daria was a leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, which actively recruited individuals with military and combat experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine that has played a central role in Putin’s justification for war.

In an interview with a Russian YouTuber in March, Daria said that Ukrainian identity is mostly localised in western Ukraine, and that eastern Ukraine — including the Donbas region — was likely to accept a “Eurasian Empire” on the basis of religious faith and nationality.