August 22, 2022 - 11:42am

At 9.30pm on Saturday 20th August, Alexander Dugin’s daughter Darya was assassinated by a car bomb. Her father was likely the intended target — he should have been travelling in the car that Darya died in. No-one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Speculation on why Dugin was targeted has varied. Ukraine vehemently denied involvement with the strike on a television broadcast: “Ukraine has absolutely nothing to do with this, because we are not a criminal state like Russia, or a terrorist one at that”, an advisor to Zelensky insisted yesterday evening.

According to The Independent, Alexander Dugin is best described as Putin’s “spiritual guide”. The Sun labelled him the “mastermind” behind the invasion of Ukraine. MailOnline went a step further — Dugin is no less than Putin’s “closest aid”.

Each article is illustrated with individual photos of the philosopher, and individual photos of the president. There are no photos of Putin and Dugin together, because the two have never met. 

The Russian state has a cool relationship with Dugin, whom they have used only occasionally when he can be useful. In 2014, the thinker’s Foundations of Geopolitics was introduced to the reading list of the Academy of the General Staff — but by the time Putin had decided against an outright annexation of the ‘People’s Republics’, Dugin’s brand of mystical expansionism was no longer helpful to the cause, and he swiftly fell out of what little favour and influence he had previously accumulated.

By 2017, Dugin was openly critical of the president — in an interview that year, he derided Putin for holding an incoherent worldview: “I think that even he doesn’t understand what he’s saying because now he’s a liberal, now a conservative; now he’s for sovereignty, now for globalism, and now against globalism.” As of 2022, Dugin has no personal or professional links to the Kremlin. “Those who think that I stand on the periphery of power are correct.” Dugin stated a few years ago. “I have no influence. I don’t know anybody, have never seen anyone, I just write my books, and am a Russian thinker, nothing more. I write books, somebody reads them.”

If Dugin’s influence over Kremlin thought is minimal, his influence on their current war effort is nonexistent. Is Dugin supportive of the invasion? Absolutely. But to think he is dictating it — that it is happening at his will, or inspired by his writings — is absurd. Dugin’s hold over the actual workings and policy of the Kremlin is nonexistent, and claims that he operates as a Rasputin-type figure, dictating Putin’s foreign policy, are fantasies. Most Russians will not have heard of the thinker until his daughter was killed in front of him.

Dugin has gained far more traction in online, alt-right circles than he ever did as a mainstream Russian commentator, currently occupying a role more comparable to Nick Land than Henry Kissinger. To suggest that Dugin is dictating Russia’s foreign policy is the equivalent of claiming that Curtis Yarvin is secretly advising Rishi Sunak.

The West’s understanding of Russia has degraded to the point of being almost worthless. Without a clear appreciation of what Russia is, and what (and who) it believes, we cannot formulate a clear strategy in regards to it. With so little known information about who has tried to kill Dugin, and so many conflicting possible justifications, perhaps the safest place to begin is with what he is not.

Katherine Bayford is a doctoral researcher in politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham.