U.S. Believes Ukrainians Were Behind an Assassination in Russia

WASHINGTON - US intelligence believes elements of the Ukrainian government authorized the August car bombing near Moscow that killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist, an element of a covert campaign launched by US officials fear that it could escalate the conflict.
The United States did not participate in the attack, either by providing intelligence or other assistance, officials said. US officials also said they were not aware of the operation in advance and would have opposed the killing had they been consulted. After that, US officials admonished Ukrainian officials over the assassination, they said.
The tightly held assessment of Ukraine's complicity, previously unreported, was shared within the US government last week. Ukraine immediately after the attack denied involvement in the killing, and senior officials repeated that denial when asked about US intelligence's assessment.
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While Russia has not retaliated in any specific way for the assassination, the United States fears that such attacks, while of high symbolic value, have little direct impact on the battlefield and could provoke Moscow to launch its own strikes against senior Ukrainian officials. US officials have been frustrated by Ukraine's lack of transparency about its military and covert plans, particularly on Russian soil.
Since the beginning of the war, Ukrainian security services have demonstrated their ability to penetrate Russia to conduct sabotage operations. However, killing Dugina would be one of the boldest operations yet - showing Ukraine can get very close to prominent Russians.
Some US officials suspect that Dugina's father, Alexander Dugin, a Russian ultranationalist, was the real target of the operation and that the agents who conducted it believed he was in the vehicle with his daughter.
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Dugin, one of Russia's most prominent voices urging Moscow to intensify its war against Ukraine, was a leading advocate of an aggressive, imperialist Russia.
US officials speaking to the intelligence community did not say which elements of the Ukrainian government authorized the mission, who carried out the attack, or whether President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the mission. US officials briefed on the Ukrainian action and the American response spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information and matters of sensitive diplomacy.
US officials would not say who in the US government delivered the warnings or who in the Ukrainian government they were delivered to. Ukraine's reaction was not known.
While the Pentagon and spy agencies have shared sensitive battlefield information with the Ukrainians to help them ring down Russian command posts, supply lines, and other key targets, the Ukrainians have not always told US officials what they are up to.
The United States has urged Ukraine to say more about its war plans, with mixed success. At the start of the war, US officials acknowledged that, thanks to their intense collection efforts, they often knew more about Russian war plans than Kiev's intentions.
Since then, the cooperation has intensified. Over the summer, Ukraine notified the United States and Britain of plans for its military counter-offensive in September.
US officials also lack a full picture of competing power centers within Ukraine's government, including the military, security services and Zelenskyy's office, a fact that may explain why some parts of Ukraine's government may not have been aware of the conspiracy.
Asked about the US intelligence agency's assessment, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the President of Ukraine, reiterated the Ukrainian government's denial of any involvement in Dugina's assassination.
"I want to reiterate that every wartime murder in one country or another must have some kind of practical meaning," Podolyak told the New York Times in an interview on Tuesday. “It should serve a specific purpose, tactically or strategically. Someone like Dugina is not a tactical or strategic target for Ukraine.
"We have other targets on the territory of Ukraine," he said. "I mean collaborators and representatives of the Russian command who might be of value to members of our special services working in this program, but certainly not to Dugina."
Although details of acts of sabotage in Russian-controlled territory have been mysterious, the Ukrainian government has tacitly admitted to killing Russian officials in Ukraine and sabotaging Russian arms factories and arms depots.
A senior Ukrainian military official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Ukrainian forces, with the help of local fighters, carried out assassinations and attacks on suspected Ukrainian collaborators and Russian officials in the occupied Ukrainian territories. Among them was the head of the Kherson region appointed by the Kremlin, who was poisoned in August and had to be evacuated to Moscow for emergency treatment.
Countries traditionally do not discuss other nations' covert actions for fear of their own operations being exposed, but some US officials believe curbing what they see as dangerous adventurism, particularly political assassinations, is crucial.
Still, US officials have insisted in recent days that ties between the two administrations remain strong. US concerns over Ukraine's aggressive covert operations in Russia have not led to any known changes in the provision of intelligence, military and diplomatic support to the Zelenskyy government or Ukraine's security services.
In a phone call on Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba that the Biden administration "will continue to support Ukraine's efforts to regain control of its territory by strengthening its hand militarily and diplomatically," according to Ned Price. Foreign Ministry spokesman.
State Department, National Security Council, Defense Department and CIA officials declined to comment on the intelligence assessment.
The war in Ukraine is at a particularly dangerous moment. The United States has been careful throughout the conflict to avoid unnecessary escalation with Moscow -- in part by telling Kyiv not to use American equipment or intelligence to conduct attacks inside Russia. But now Ukraine's recent successes on the battlefield have prompted Russia to respond with a series of escalating moves, such as conducting partial mobilization and moving into annexed parts of eastern Ukraine.
There are growing concerns in Washington that Russia may consider further steps to intensify the war, including resuming efforts to assassinate prominent Ukrainian leaders. Zelenskyy would be the prime target of Russian assassination squads, as he was during the Russian attack on Kyiv earlier in the war.
But now US officials have said Russia could target a variety of Ukrainian leaders, many of whom enjoy less protection than Zelenskyy.
The United States and Europe had imposed sanctions on Dugina. She shared her father's worldview and was accused by the West of spreading Russian propaganda about Ukraine.
Russia launched a murder investigation after Dugina's killing, calling the blast that killed her a terrorist attack. Dugina was killed instantly in the explosion in the Odintsovo district, a wealthy neighborhood in Moscow's suburbs.
After the bombing, speculation focused on whether Ukraine was responsible or whether it was a false flag operation designed to put the blame on Ukrainians. The bombing came after a series of Ukrainian attacks in Crimea, a part of Ukraine that Russia occupied in 2014. These attacks had prompted ultra-nationalists in Dugin's circle to urge Putin to intensify the war in Ukraine.
Russia's domestic intelligence agency FSB blamed Ukrainian intelligence for Dugina's murder. In an announcement made a day after the attack, the FSB said Ukrainian agents had contracted a Ukrainian woman who entered Russia in July and rented an apartment where Dugina lived. According to the FSB, the woman fled Russia after the bombing.
Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of Russia's parliament who voted against the annexation of Crimea, has claimed that a group of pro-Ukrainian and anti-Putin militants operating in Russia, known as the National Republican Army, are fighting for the responsible for murder.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ponomarev claimed to be in contact with the National Republican Army and was aware of the operation against Dugina several hours before it was carried out. Many Washington officials were skeptical of Ponomarev's claims on behalf of the group.
© 2022 The New York Times Company
Darya Dugina
Russian journalist and activist

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