Car explosion kills daughter of key Putin ally: who is Alexander Dugin and apparent car bombing target?
Ideologue’s views helped shape ideas behind Ukraine invasion but his influence on Putin is disputed
On Saturday night, the violence that the ultranationalist Russian thinker Alexander Dugin had propagandised for decades suddenly entered his own life when his daughter was killed in a car bomb on the outskirts of Moscow.
With long hair and a grey-white beard, Dugin is arguably one of Russia’s most well-known ideologues and has variously been described as “Putin’s brain” or “Putin’s Rasputin”. However, his actual influence over the Russian president remains a subject of heated discussion.
Born in 1962 in a high-ranking military family, Dugin spent his early years as an anti-communist dissident. He joined various eccentric avant-garde collectives that sprung up during the last two decades of the Soviet Union, where he was known for his flirtation with the politics of Nazi Germany.
He came to national attention in the 1990s as a writer for the far-right newspaper Den. In a 1991 manifesto published in Den, Dugin first laid out his anti-liberal and ultranationalist vision of Russia, a country he said was destined to face off against an individualistic, materialistic west.
During the tumultuous years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dugin co-founded the National Bolshevik party with the novelist Eduard Limonov, merging fascist and communist-nostalgic rhetoric and symbolism.
Dugin’s worldview is most clearly articulated in his 1997 publication The Foundations of Geopolitics, which reportedly became a textbook in the Russian general staff academy and solidified his transition from a dissident to a prominent pillar of the conservative establishment.
Looks like there was an assassination attempted on Alexander Dugin that killed his daughter, fair to say things will escalate a lot from here!— Luke Rudkowski (@Lukewearechange) August 20, 2022
In the book, Dugin laid out his vision to divide the world, calling for Russia to rebuild its influence through annexations and alliances while proclaiming his opposition to Ukraine as a sovereign state.
“Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness,” he wrote.
“Its certain territorial ambitions represent an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics.”
Twenty-five years later, Russia’s president repeated some of Dugin’s views on Ukraine in his 4,000-word essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, which many saw as a blueprint for the invasion he launched just six months after it was published.
However, it was far from certain that Dugin’s radical anti-western thoughts would eventually become mainstream in Moscow when Putin became president in 2000.
Boosted by high oil prices, the newly elected leader appeared to be overseeing the country’s integration into the global capitalist system while ordinary Russians embraced western fast food and pop culture.
Russian media are reporting that a car exploded in Moscow oblast; allegedly, Darya Dugina, Alexander Dugin's daughter, was driving and that she died on the spot. No official confirmation at this point, also no information on the cause of the explosion. pic.twitter.com/7jeDuGVDjP— Russians With Attitude (@RWApodcast) August 20, 2022
Dugin’s illiberal totalitarian ideas were deemed irrelevant and he found himself on the fringes of political power. However, he continued writing and lecturing, further developing the concept of Eurasianism, the Russian-flavoured, fascist political doctrine that sees Moscow as the centre of a rival empire to the Atlanticist west.
Dugin’s standing changed in 2012 when Putin took power once again following mass anti-government protests and the Russian leader embraced a conservative vision for his country.
Dugin felt further vindicated when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and launched a bloody war in the Donbas following the pro-western revolution in Kyiv.
“I think we should kill, kill, kill [Ukrainians], there can’t be any other talk,” Dugin said in one video address to his followers at the time, making him one of the most hated Russian public figures in Kyiv.
Despite Dugin’s violent rhetoric he continued to travel abroad, maintaining close links with thinkers of the European New Right, who also denounced liberalism, feminism and US domination.
He was also frequently invited to conferences around the world, debating the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy in Amsterdam as recently as 2019.
Dugin reportedly travelled without security inside and outside Russia, which some hastily pointed to as one of the possible explanations behind Saturday’s attack, which was reportedly intended to kill him.
The actual influence of Dugin over Putin’s day-to-day operations has been a longstanding subject of debate, with some Russia experts calling him “Putin’s spiritual guide” and others, mostly those in Moscow, saying he was an irrelevant figure eager to appear close to the Kremlin for personal profit. Dugin reportedly asked for as much as €500 (£425) for interviews with western media.
The two men have never been photographed together, and Dugin has never held an official position within the state.
“This caricature pseudointellectual foist is certainly not part of the decision-making system,” Leonid Volkov, a key ally to the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, wrote hours after the car bombing.
Nevertheless, his brand of Russian nationalism has indisputably become popular among much of Russia’s political elite, and his views helped shape the ideas behind the invasion of Ukraine.
The killing of Dugin’s daughter Darya, a pro-Kremlin journalist ideologically aligned with her father, will send shock waves through the top echelons of Russian society.
Footage that circulated across Russia of Darya’s burned-out car will also bring back memories of the turbulent 1990s when car bomb assassinations were routine, a dark feature of a previous era that Putin’s presidency vouched to end.
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