DrAugust is considered a dark month in Russian political life. In August, according to political myths, things happened of great importance and which have often been the subject of decades of debate: the coup attempt in 1991, the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, or the poisoning of the country’s most famous opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, in 2020. .
August 2022 seems to confirm this myth. The events of the past two days may change Russia. On Saturday, a young right-wing extremist was killed on a country road not far from Moscow: Daria Dugina, better known as a studio guest on state broadcasting stations. She was the victim of a bomb attached to her car. The attack was apparently aimed at her father, the neo-fascist theorist Alexander Dugin, who calls for an all-out war against Ukraine and dreams of a large Eurasian empire.
Some observers in the West consider him an important source of inspiration for the Kremlin. In fact, his influence on Russia’s ruler, Vladimir Putin, is likely to be minimal. Dugin is likely to be a liaison who maintains contact with European right-wing extremists – such as Italy’s Lega or Germany’s AfD – on behalf of Russian intelligence. At the same time, Dugin is seen as the stepdaughter of the Russian Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, a Putin loyalist who funds volunteer battalions in Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Soon speculation arose about who could be behind this crime: Ukrainian intelligence? Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB, to provide a pretext for new reprisals or to escalate the war – perhaps with mass mobilization? Dugin’s rivals in favor of Malofeev? Official Kyiv denied responsibility for Dugina’s death, and Russian state media initially did not commit to assigning blame.
A video admitting the attack is the beginning of a fight between the partisans
Then, on Sunday, there was an uproar: In a video, the National Republican Army, a previously unknown secret organization aiming to topple Putin — by any means necessary — claims responsibility for the attack.
The head of the Kremlin is called a “rapist” and a “war criminal”. The “army” declares war on its advocates and officials, from policemen to government officials. According to the “Army”, even businessmen loyal to Putin should not feel safe. Everyone is in the crossfire, everyone can be next.
This stems from a statement by the group, which also calls itself the “Flower Partisans”, posted in the Telegram channel, which has so far dealt with the sabotage of Russian war logistics, such as attacks on railroads. The language of the document sounds like an ideological patchwork quilt: there is talk of brotherly peoples, of the need to rid Russia of “filth” and of a free future for blue Belarus, where there is no place for oligarchy, corruption and the goal of poverty.
The resort to political killing by opposition members would be a turning point in modern Russian history. In the more than twenty years of Putin’s rule, members of the opposition have shied away from political violence of any kind. And in the more recent tradition of Russian dissidents, the repressive state sided with violence; The focus on peaceful measures and appeals to the Russian constitutional state that existed only in the imagination have become in recent years.
The opposition has become radical
One can assume that parts of the Russian opposition have become radicalized by the Ukraine war. The move from property destruction – sabotage of railroads – to political murder is a colossal step in light of the culture of the Russian opposition skeptical of the so-called “Republican Army” statements would be appropriate.
Does the secret organization really exist? Is it a project by the KGB to justify a new wave of repression – or even mass mobilization in the war against Ukraine? These questions are still open, because the propaganda of the Russian state has not yet positioned itself on the manifesto of the “Army”.
The number chosen by the “army” to be its ambassador also raises doubts: Ilya Ponomariov. In an interview with a YouTube channel critical of the war, he explained why Dougina was killed. He is 47 years old and comes from a Russian-Soviet aristocratic family, and his grandfather was the Soviet ambassador to Poland. Ponomariov himself sat for two terms in the State Duma for the left-wing pro-Kremlin party “Just Russia”. During his time in the State Duma, he supported, among other things, the repressive laws that still allow the Russian state to censor the Internet today.
He is the only one who voted against the annexation of Crimea
However, in 2014, he was the only member of the State Duma to vote against the annexation of Crimea – and the people of Ukraine are still grateful to him for that. In 2016, after investigations against him in connection with embezzlement in the Skolkovo State Innovation Fund, he fled first to the United States, where he founded an investment company, and then to Kyiv. Only a few years ago he wanted to produce natural gas in the Black Sea in order to “defeat Putin economically,” as he put it in an interview.
Ponomarev is not exactly from the front row of the Russian opposition, but is seen as a political self-promoter who was not shy about contacting representatives of Putin’s domestic policy. For his participation in the wave of Moscow protests in 2011-2012, Ponomariov got the green light from the then deputy prime minister and longtime close friend of Putin Vyacheslav Surkov, he said in an interview.
It is difficult to imagine that real secret fighters will leave it to this character, considered dubious in Russian opposition circles, to report their first success. In the end, his interview left more unanswered questions than answers. Official reactions from Moscow may allow conclusions about who is really responsible – this should not be long in the future.