A Murder in Russia

Why an assassination in Moscow matters to Ukraine and the West

View of Moscow and one of seven Stalinist skyscrapers
Moscow, December 2015 (Frédéric Soltan / Corbis / Getty)

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The daughter of a prominent Russian fascist was killed in a car bombing in Moscow. Most Americans have no idea who the Dugin family is, but this event could have serious repercussions in Russia and Ukraine.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Not Ordinary Propagandists

A car bomb exploded in one of Moscow’s wealthy neighborhoods on Saturday night, killing Darya Dugina, the daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, the spiritual godfather of Russia’s surging fascism. Her death may have an impact far beyond the Russian capital. Or it might not; this may have been part of yet another tangled vendetta among Russia’s elites. We won’t know the truth for a while—if ever—but following this story requires some context about the Dugins.

It’s possible (if unlikely) that this might not have been about politics. Dugin’s daughter was driving her father’s car, but in Moscow, people with money and proximity to power live with a certain amount of generic risk from any number of potential enemies. To be involved in anything of material or political importance in Russia is to court risk. (Many years ago I was interviewed for a relatively high-visibility job with a Western company that wanted to assign me to Moscow. The position, I was assured, came with a fine salary and a nice apartment—and reliable bodyguards.)

But the Dugins are not ordinary propagandists. Aleksandr Dugin is part of a weird strain of Russian imperial hypernationalism that somehow manages to venerate Russian Orthodoxy, Stalin, the Nazis, and the occult all at the same time. You can read more here about the late-1980s trends in the U.S.S.R. that produced this vicious and deeply weird school of thought, but spare yourself the effort it would take to make sense of it all. Much of it is warmed-over Russian messianism and mystical gobbledygook, the product not only of 19th-century Russian grievances against Europe and Western Christianity but also of late-20th-century Soviet resentments against the “Atlantic” world led by the United States.

Underneath it all is the simple and brutal belief that Russia—specifically white, Christian Russia—is destined to rule Eurasia as the first step to contesting world domination with the decadent Americans and Europeans. Dugin’s ravings are as unreadable in Russian as they are in English, but the Russian General Staff assigns Dugin’s book as a required text, and understandably so. It is an almost perfectly Orwellian view of total and permanent war, a perfect ideology for a country afflicted by both a deep inferiority complex and a dark spiritual vacuum.

Ukraine, of course, is at the top of the list of regions to be recaptured. Kyiv is the birthplace of Slavic Christianity, and for people like Dugin (and Vladimir Putin), the existence of Ukraine as an independent state is intolerable. Dugin doesn’t mince words about Ukraine; back in 2014, he said that Ukrainians “must be killed, killed, killed.”

Dugin’s 29-year-old daughter ran a disinformation website in Russia and was already under U.S. sanctions. (Among other things, she claimed that the Bucha massacre outside Kyiv was staged.) She shared her father’s ideology and his loathing for Ukraine.

So who killed her? Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB, by its Russian initialism) claims that a Ukranian woman named Natalia Vovk moved into Dugina’s apartment block a month ago, planted the bomb, and fled to Estonia. This seems pretty quick and convenient, and the Russian news service TASS has already declared the case solved.

It’s true that Russian officials in Ukraine have been killed by car bombs, which are old-school hits by modern Russian standards. It’s not clear, however, why the Ukrainians would want to go to Moscow to take out second-stringers like Dugin or his daughter; his star has dimmed over the years, in part because he was critical of Putin for not being brutal and imperialistic enough. As my fellow Russia expert (and Dugin watcher) Nick Gvosdev told me today, Dugin’s ideas may have had some influence, but he wasn’t a presence in the Kremlin, where he was seen as unstable and potentially embarrassing. Dugin isn’t a nobody, but he wasn’t exactly running the war in Ukraine, either.

Kyiv denies Moscow’s charges. Meanwhile, a former Russian parliamentarian and dedicated Putin opponent, Ilya Ponomarev, claimed in a broadcast from Kyiv that the bombing was the work of a group calling itself “the National Republican Army” that is dedicated to overthrowing Putin, but this is not verifiable.

Could the FSB have hit Dugina while trying to kill Dugin, perhaps as a plot—the kind Russian spies have been accused of in the past—to spin up fresh hatred against Ukraine and get some of the heat off itself for its botched advice six months ago? That’s a stretch, too, because anyone who admired Dugin was already all in on the war. But in Moscow in 2022, anything is possible.

Unless someone with more credibility claims responsibility, or more evidence emerges in Russia, we’re unlikely to know much more anytime soon, no matter how quickly TASS or Twitter declares the case closed. The one certain outcome is that the Russians will use Dugina’s death to press on with their campaign of atrocities and destruction.


Today’s News
  1. Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that he will step down from his role and end his career in public service in December.
  2. Flash flooding hit the Dallas area overnight; rainfall reached record highs.
  3. Students in the Philippines headed back to in-person classes for the first time since the country’s COVID-19 shutdown began more than two years ago.


Evening Read
Cows in a pasture.
(Richard Kalvar / Magnum)

Veganism Might Not Be the Most Sustainable Diet

By Bob Holmes

As governments drag their feet in responding to climate change, many concerned people are looking for actions that they can take as individuals—and eating less meat is an obvious place to start. Livestock today account for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions … For people alarmed about climate change, giving up meat altogether can seem like the only option.

But is it? A growing body of research suggests that the world could, in fact, raise enough beef, pork, chicken, and other meat to let anyone who wants to eat a modest portion of meat a few times a week—and do so sustainably. Indeed, it turns out that a world with some animal agriculture might have a smaller environmental footprint than an entirely vegan world.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
shorter stories books
(Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

Read. Check out our new very short stories that display the virtue of lightness.

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Play our daily crossword.


I’m often asked to recommend a good overall history of Russia’s post-Soviet period. That’s always a hard question to answer, because the story of modern Russia is intimately entwined with the recent past, and I end up wanting to hand over a reading list. But one book that might help a general reader make sense of Putin’s Russia is Putin’s Kleptocracy, by the late Karen Dawisha. Unlike other authors who either were too optimistic about Putin (I fell into that mistake more than 20 years ago) or treated Russia’s decline as an accident or the product of bad Western policies, Dawisha argues that the system we see now was not a tragic error but the result of a conscious design by Putin and the people around him. It’s a crushing read, especially for those of us who had greater hopes for a new Russia, but Dawisha, I believe, got it right.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.