By Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Lillis, CNN
Updated: Thu, 06 Oct 2022 06:50:09 GMT
The US intelligence community believes that the car bombing that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of prominent Russian political figure Alexander Dugin, was authorized by elements within the Ukrainian government, sources briefed on the intelligence told CNN.
The US was not aware of the plan beforehand, according to the sources, and it is still unclear who exactly the US believes signed off on the assassination. It is also not clear whether the US intelligence community believes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was aware of the plot or authorized it.
But the intelligence finding, first reported by the New York Times, would seem to corroborate elements of the Russian authorities' findings that the car bombing was "pre-planned." Russia had accused Ukrainian nationals of being responsible for the attack, which Ukraine had strongly denied in the aftermath of the explosion.
Asked to comment, a Ukrainian defense intelligence official told CNN Wednesday evening following publication of the latest reports that their agency had no new information on Dugina's death. Shortly after her death, the same official had told CNN that Ukraine had nothing to do with it.
The National Security Council, CIA and State Department declined to comment.
US intelligence officials believe that Dugina was driving her father's car on the night she was killed, and that her father was the actual target of the operation, one of the sources said. Dugin is a Russian ultranationalist and philosopher who has been a fierce proponent of Russia's war in Ukraine. A friend of Dugina also told the Russian state owned news outlet TASS shortly after the explosion that the car she was driving was her father's.
Just days after Dugina's death, Russian authorities accused a Ukrainian woman of remotely detonating explosives planted in Dugina's Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, and then driving through the Pskov region and into Estonia to escape.
Oleksii Danylov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security Council, immediately denied the allegation. "We have nothing to do with the murder of this lady -- this is the work of the Russian special services," he said in August. Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also said at the time that the Russian accusation reflected the "fictional world" the Russian government is operating in.
The intelligence surrounding Ukraine's involvement, if accurate, would signal a bold expansion of Ukraine's covert operations to target a well-known political figure just outside of Moscow.
To date, Ukrainian strikes inside Russia have largely been limited to attacks on fuel depots and military bases in cities along the Russia-Ukraine border, like Belgorod. But the US does not have good visibility into all of Ukraine's planned strikes, sources told CNN.
A Ukrainian official told CNN that the US intelligence community's findings had not been broached during a meeting between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Zelensky's chief of staff Andriy Yermak in Istanbul earlier this week. It is not clear whether the issue was raised more recently by President Joe Biden in a phone call with Zelensky on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to comment.
Dugina, who was 29 when she was killed, was a public figure in her own right and frequently appeared as a commentator on Russian TV networks pushing anti-West, nationalist narratives.
As CNN has previously reported, Dugina also ran an English- and Turkish-language website called United World International, which itself was part of a broader propaganda effort known as "Project Lakhta." The State Department has accused Project Lakhta of deploying online "trolls" to interfere in US elections.
The US sanctioned both Dugin and Dugina after Russia's invasion in February, accusing them of spreading propaganda and acting to destabilize Ukraine.
This story has been updated with additional reporting Wednesday.