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Russia blames Ukraine for Moscow car bombing that killed daughter of Putin ally

Russia accuses Ukrainian agents of being behind a Moscow car bombing that killed the daughter of a prominent Russian far-right ideologue. The apparent political assassination adds more fuel to the escalating Russo-Ukrainian war.

(CN) — Russia on Monday accused Ukrainian agents of detonating a bomb under a car that killed the daughter of a prominent Russian far-right ideologue on Saturday as she was driving in Moscow.

The killing of Darya Dugina, a 29-year-old journalist and daughter of Russian political philosopher Alexander Dugin, came amid an escalation in the Ukraine war in recent days that's seen intense front line battles, Ukrainian strikes on Russian-held Crimea and fighting endanger Europe's largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

On Monday, Russia's Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, claimed a 43-year-old Ukrainian woman and her 12-year-old daughter killed Dugina by planting a bomb under a Land Cruiser she was driving. Ukraine denied any involvement.

Dugin, a prominent Russian hawk and anti-Western ideologue with some influence at the Kremlin, was allegedly the intended target because Dugina was apparently driving her father's vehicle after they left a conference where Dugin spoke, Russian media reported.

The FSB identified the Ukrainian agent as Natalia Vovk and said she allegedly fled with her daughter to Estonia, according to Russian state media. Russia's secret services said she was a member of the Azov Regiment, a branch of Ukraine's military with far-right ties and labeled as war criminals and “Nazis” by Russia.

In Ukraine, Azov fighters are seen as heroes valiantly defending their nation against Russia's aggression. Azov fighters came to prominence when they held out for weeks against Russian advances on Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, before finally surrendering in mid-May.

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said any negotiations with Russia will be “cut off” if “show trials” proceed against Ukrainian forces captured in Mariupol.

“No matter what the occupiers are thinking, no matter what they are planning, the reaction of our state will be absolutely clear,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “If this despicable show trial takes place …. This will be the line beyond which any negotiations are impossible.”

The car bombing in Moscow may mark a turning point in the war and see Russian President Vladimir Putin come under even more pressure from the nationalist right in Russia to escalate the war even further.

In a statement, Putin called Dugina's killing “a despicable, cruel crime” targeting “a bright, talented person with a real Russian heart” and “a patriot of Russia.” He sent his condolences to the Dugin family.

Although Dugin is described by Western journalists as very close to Putin and providing the Russian leader with a manifesto for neo-imperialist aspirations, many Russia experts dismiss this characterization as false and say Dugin's influence on Putin is marginal. In the Western press, though, Dugin is routinely called “Putin's key ally,” “Putin's brain” and “Putin's Rasputin.” Regardless, Dugin is a prominent figure among Russian hawks and nationalists, a group within Russia's elite that may be gaining in power as the Ukraine war becomes fiercer and threatens instability inside Russia, especially in the event of Ukrainian gains on the battlefield. As of now, Ukraine's forces have limited Russian advances in the east and south, but Kyiv is pushing to reclaim lost territory.

Dugina's assassination adds to a sense that the war is accelerating as Ukraine, aided by a steady supply of advanced Western weapons and intelligence, hits back at Russia and its pro-Russian allies in Ukraine with missiles, drones, sabotage and other means of attack. Last week, Washington announced a new $775 million arms package for Ukraine. So far, the United States has supplied $10 billion in arms to Ukraine since Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24.

In Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 following the U.S.-backed overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Russian president, the Russian military is on high alert following Ukrainian drone strikes on airfields and military bases, including a recent hit at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

Russia's air defense system in Crimea reportedly fended off attacks in recent days. Russian claims about arrests of Ukrainian saboteurs also have become routine, as claims about arrests of Russian agents are on the Ukrainian side.

Monday saw another Ukrainian strike on the Antonovsky Bridge in Kherson, a southern city on the Black Sea that is the focus of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russia said the strike killed at least two civilians working to repair damage from previous attacks on the bridge. The bridge is a key link for Russian supplies to troops in Kherson.

Elsewhere, Ukraine has continued to fire upon eastern Ukrainian cities and territories under Russian control and carried out attacks on border areas inside Russia. Russia also accuses Ukrainian forces of using Western weapons to shell the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, Europe's largest nuclear power plant. It sits on the front lines in southern Ukraine and there are fears of a nuclear disaster at the plant.

Russia, too, claimed new strikes against Ukrainian forces on Monday, including a hit over the weekend on an ammunition depot in Odesa, supposedly containing U.S. weapons, according to TASS, a Russian state news agency.

But Moscow's advances in eastern and southern Ukraine have been very slow in recent weeks, an indication of stiff resistance from Ukraine's forces. The bulk of the fighting is taking place in Donetsk, one of two eastern regions that have declared themselves independent from Kyiv.

This part of Ukraine has been the scene of fighting since 2014 when political upheaval and rivalry between oligarchs, political parties, Russian and Ukrainian ethnic groups and Russia and the United States led to the eruption of a civil war.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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