“The murder of Russian journalist Darya Dugina has been solved, Russia’s federal security service FSB has said,” according to Russia’s state media TASS. “It was prepared by Ukrainian secret services. The perpetrator - a citizen of Ukraine identified as Natalia Vovk - escaped to Estonia, the FSB’s public relations center stated.”
Days ago, when the explosion happened, Russia was more circumspect. But now the investigation seems open and shut. "As a result of urgent detective measures, the federal security service has solved the murder of Russian journalist Darya Dugina, born in 1992," the FSB stressed. The special service found that "the crime was prepared and committed by Ukrainian secret services,” TASS reported in Moscow.
How Russia knows all this is unclear but it is one of those simple narratives that seems too good to be true. Russia says the perpetrator, born in 1979, arrived in Russia on July 23, 2022. She has a daughter and “on the day of the murder, Vovk and Shaban attended the literary and music festival Tradition, where Dugina was present as an honorary guest.”
Investigators work at the site of a suspected car bomb attack that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, in the Moscow region, Russia August 21, 2022, in this still image taken from video. (credit: Investigative Committee of Russia/Handout via REUTERS)
Is it reasonable to conclude that a lone perpetrator was able to install “a remote-controlled” device on a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and then activate it? “To plot the murder and gather information about Dugina’s lifestyle, Vovk and her daughter rented an apartment in Moscow in the same building where the victim lived,” TASS reported. “To spy on the journalist, the criminal used a Mini Cooper car.”
Like all good intelligence operations that are leaked to the media, this one includes a lot of detail, including the license plate of the car of the perpetrator. “A license plate of the Donetsk People's Republic - E982XH DPR, in Moscow - a license plate of Kazakhstan 172AJD02, and when leaving - a Ukrainian license plate AH7771IP.”
WHAT’S THE point of revealing all these details? The more details, the more it must be true. And yet the key detail – how Moscow knows that this is linked to the Ukrainian “special services” – is unclear.
That’s always the issue with information: When you release a lot of details, but no details on the evidence part, it is used to obscure the reality. Why would the perpetrator use a Mini Cooper? Isn’t that kind of a flashy and odd car for such an operation? If you have to bring in munitions and install them on a large SUV, is it reasonable to conclude that one woman acting alone did this, using her daughter as cover?
And even more interesting, the articles in Russian media say that the perpetrator was monitoring the “journalist,” not her well-known father. This is a key point, because Western media and others assumed the target was the father, who arrived at the site of the explosion after it happened.
When you use a remote-control device to blow up a car, don’t you need to follow the car or be on the road nearby to blow it up? And why target the daughter? Russia doesn’t accuse Ukraine of a long list of bombing intellectuals and journalists. Does Moscow believe that suddenly, after months of war, Ukraine’s secret services suddenly decided that they would target this one person?
According to the report, the Toyota Land Cruiser was heading out of Moscow when it was blown up. Russia’s Izvestia says, after interviewing an expert, that “the organizers of the crime may have been preparing an attempt on the father of the deceased.” Well which is it: the perpetrator monitored the daughter or the father? “A motive for the murder could be the social activities of the deceased,” it said.
The overall context here seems to point to a convenient open-and-shut case in which the narrative was already prepared beforehand. Pro-Russia commentators and Moscow apologists had already been bashing Ukraine and the West for this “terrorist” act. Now Russian media is saying this was a “crime” – and it’s unclear if the rhetoric will increase.
Russia's next steps
THERE ARE now several options open to Russia. By blaming Ukraine’s intelligence services, Moscow is laying the blame in Kyiv. But it has also indicated this was a one-person job, and it doesn’t seem to be claiming there is some team of Ukrainian agents running around Moscow targeting others. So the official line, so far, is that one person did this at the behest of Kyiv, and that they monitored one journalist. Will Moscow grow this conspiracy to assert that this is some kind of “terror” or assassination campaign?
For Moscow, conspiracies and assassinations have a long history, and there is always a question: “Who benefits?” Who benefits from the murder of a commentator such as Dugina? This isn’t some huge, high-profile target.
Commentators online have even suggested that Dugina’s father’s role has been exaggerated. If that is true, why would Ukraine want to remove his daughter – what would this possibly accomplish except shedding a negative light on Kyiv’s actions? It comes as Ukraine has been successful in targeting Russian arms depots and airfields, and preparing the ground for a counter offensive.
Does the attack in Moscow give it an excuse to increase the war effort? So far, despite media reports of Russia running low on ammunition, it appears that Russia has not yet committed its most serious forces.
By claiming to crack the case so quickly and find one lone perpetrator, Moscow has absolved itself of incompetence: not noticing a team of assassins infiltrating the capital. Rather, it wasn’t even able to notice one person in a Mini Cooper, the same car used in the film The Italian Job.
It will be worthwhile to see if Moscow’s rhetoric shifts in the coming days to blame “terrorists” or “Nazis” for the attack. These are the usual terms Russia would use to slander Ukraine, not the more common term “criminals.” If criminals are responsible then a criminal trial is a response, not an expanded war.
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