An alleged assassination attempt that killed the daughter of a key Putin ally is making foreign policy observers very nervous.
In the last days of a free Kabul, just as American forces were leaving and Taliban militants were closing in, Russian media outlets reported that the Taliban offensive in Kabul appeared to be, “winding down,” and, “running out of steam.”
Anyone familiar with the propagandist leanings of the Russia press over the past few years in particular knew what that meant: Kabul was in deadly trouble and was about to fall, spectacularly, to the Taliban.
And so it proved.
Since February 2022, and throughout the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s hold over the Russian “free” press has been so constantly on display, it’s hard to know what to believe about the conflict.
Like Germany with Poland before 1939, Russia has been engaging in a kind of slow-scale invasion of Ukraine for years. The danger signs have been flashing red since at least 2014- and before. Looking back, Putin’s intentions to eventually invade Ukraine were always perfectly clear, in spite of the Russian media’s attempts to obfuscate them.
It seems clear, for instance, in retrospect, that Ukraine’s problems with “corruption” were one part truth, ten parts long-term Russian propaganda effort to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine and prevent its acceptance into an international security and trade collective like NATO.
It isn’t that there wasn’t official corruption in Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion; there was. Corruption was and remains a problem in the nation. But all of the old USSR states experienced corruption after the Iron Curtain fell.
The fact that Ukraine has been singled out so consistently over the past decade on charges of corruption suggests one of two things. Which one you believe depends on how much you trust the worldview of Vladimir Putin.
According to Putin’s logic, Ukraine is simply too corrupt, too poorly managed, its leadership too inept to govern itself, or be allowed to endure as a sovereign nation. By this line of reasoning, Ukraine’s intractable corruption problem, which extends deep into its election systems, all but requires it to be forcibly annexed by Russia, ostensibly for the good of the people forced to live under such blatant mismanagement.
Of course, if you don’t trust the word of Vladimir Putin and his mouthpieces of official Russian propaganda, the whole “Ukraine corruption” gambit sounds like exactly what it is: A thinly-veiled excuse for Vladimir Putin to do what he obviously intended to do anyway. Namely, invade Ukraine.
As the conflict in Ukraine drags on day after day, foreign policy experts and global leaders are watching the Russian media carefully for signs of what Vladimir Putin might do next, reading between the lines and carefully parsing every word.
As such, the news this weekend that the daughter of a key Putin ally, Alexander Dugin, was killed by a car bomb in Moscow, has set the international community atremble.
Already this conflict has world leaders remembering the last major invasion in Europe. Assassinations, the invasion of one sovereign nation by another; no one enjoys hearing the drums of global warfare beating this close to home.
No one can ignore them either.
“Daughter of Putin ally Alexander Dugin killed by car bomb in Moscow,” wrote Martin Farrer and journalist Andrew Roth for the Guardian on August 21, 2022, with Roth reporting from Moscow.
“Russian hawks without evidence blame Kyiv for death of Darya Dugin and demand Kremlin response,” warned Farrer and Roth.
“Ukraine has absolutely nothing to do with this, because we are not a criminal state like Russia, or a terrorist one at that,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to president Volodymyr Zelensky, in response to the news.
Nevertheless, the head of Russia’s main federal investigative body has already called the attack, “premeditated and of a contract nature.”
“This was the father’s vehicle,” said Andrey Krasnov, head of the Russian Horizon. “Darya was driving another car but she took his car today, while Alexander went in a different way. He returned, he was at the site of the tragedy. As far as I understand, Alexander or probably they together were the target.”
Prior to her death, Darya Dugin, along with her father, had been officially sanctioned by the United Kingdom and the United States for actively trying to destabilize Ukraine.
The UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation called them, “a frequent and high-profile contributor of disinformation in relation to Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on various online platforms.”
Just how much influence the Dugins enjoy over Russia’s propaganda machine is debatable. It is also unknown what, if any, actions Russia’s government might be considering in retaliation for the alleged attack.
Besides rushing to blame the attack on the Ukraine, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has also been bandied about by the Russian media as the potential source of this “murder-for-hire” plot.
Nor is this is only alleged assassination attempt being reported on by the Russian media.
“Russia’s puppet mayor in Mariupol ‘survives assassination attempt’ at zoo,” relayed the Independent yesterday. “Explosion reported at entrance to zoo in Azov Sea port devastated by Moscow’s bombardment.”
Who is behind these assassination attempts, if indeed that is what they were rather than attempts to manipulate media and public sentiment by Russian propaganda ministers, is far from clear.
What is certain, however, is that Russia has started mass production of Zircon naval hypersonic missiles.
Global leaders hopeful that sanctions and embargoes had at least served to isolate Russia’s military complex and hamper its ability to produce weapons of war have been disappointed by this latest development.
“The Kinzhal was used in combat for this first time on March 20, to strike a military fuel depot near the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv,” wrote the Jerusalem Post this morning. “On Thursday, Russia stationed three MiG-31 aircraft equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, to the backdrop of rising tensions with Lithuania.”
Russia’s, “rising tensions with Lithuania,” are giving already nervous world governments even more reasons to worry.
By and large, sanctions and embargoes have been less-than effective in curbing Russian aggression in Ukraine. China and India bought all the cheap Russian energy eschewed by the U.S. and E.U. nations, leaving the Ruble the strongest currency in the world.
Russia’s recent actions in cutting energy supplies to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 down to 20% have already raised the stakes in this conflict past the point of no return.
It isn’t clear what at this point world leaders can do to stop Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, or wherever he turns his attention next. At some point, it isn’t hard to imagine the Russian government taking exception to all the military aid nations like the US have been pouring into the conflict against Russian interests.
Blaming the Moscow car bomb which killed Darya Dugin on the U.S. might be a very risky move. If that is indeed Putin’s ultimate plan, this conflict may have only just begun.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)