US intelligence agencies believe parts of the Ukrainian government authorised the car bomb attack near Moscow in August that killed Daria Dugina, daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist, an element of a covert campaign that US officials fear could widen the conflict.
The United States took no part in the attack, either by providing intelligence or other assistance, officials said. US officials also said they were not aware of the operation ahead of time and would have opposed the killing had they been consulted. Afterward, US officials admonished Ukrainian officials over the assassination, they said.
The closely held assessment of Ukrainian complicity, which has not been previously reported, was shared within the US government last week. Ukraine denied involvement in the killing immediately after the attack, and senior officials repeated those denials when asked about the US intelligence assessment.
While Russia has not retaliated in a specific way for the assassination, the United States is concerned that such attacks — while high in symbolic value — have little direct effect on the battlefield and could provoke Moscow to carry out its own strikes against senior Ukrainian officials. US officials have been frustrated with Ukraine’s lack of transparency about its military and covert plans, especially on Russian soil.
Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s security services have demonstrated their ability to reach into Russia to conduct sabotage operations. The killing of Dugina, however, would be one of the boldest operations to date — showing Ukraine can get very close to prominent Russians.
Some US officials suspect Dugina’s father, Alexander Dugin, a Russian ultranationalist, was the actual target of the operation and that the operatives who carried it out believed he would be in the vehicle with his daughter.
Dugin, one of Russia’s most prominent voices urging Moscow to intensify its war on Ukraine, has been a leading proponent of an aggressive, imperialist Russia.
The US officials who spoke about the intelligence did not disclose which elements of the Ukrainian government were believed to have authorised the mission, who carried out the attack or whether president Volodymyr Zelenskiy had signed off on the mission. US officials briefed on the Ukrainian action and the US response spoke on the condition of anonymity, in order to discuss secret information and matters of sensitive diplomacy.
US officials would not say who in the US government delivered the admonishments or whom in the Ukrainian government they were delivered to. It was not known what Ukraine’s response was.
When asked about the US intelligence assessment, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, reiterated the Ukrainian government’s denials of involvement in Dugina’s killing.
“Again, I’ll underline that any murder during wartime in some country or another must carry with it some kind of practical significance,” Mr Podolyak told The New York Times in an interview Tuesday. “It should fulfil some specific purpose, tactical or strategic. Someone like Dugina is not a tactical or a strategic target for Ukraine.
“We have other targets on the territory of Ukraine,” he said. “I mean collaborationists and representatives of the Russian command, who might have value for members of our special services working in this program, but certainly not Dugina.”
Though details surrounding acts of sabotage in Russian-controlled territory have been shrouded in mystery, the Ukrainian government has quietly acknowledged killing Russian officials in Ukraine and sabotaging Russian arms factories and weapons depots.
A senior Ukrainian military official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic said that Ukrainian forces, with the help of local fighters, had carried out assassinations and attacks on accused Ukrainian collaborators and Russian officials in occupied Ukrainian territories. These include the Kremlin-installed head of the Kherson region, 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 having their own operations revealed, but some US officials believe it is crucial to curb what they see as dangerous adventurism, particularly political assassinations.
Still, US officials in recent days have taken pains to insist that relations between the two governments remain strong. US concerns about Ukraine’s aggressive covert operations inside Russia have not prompted any known changes in the provision of intelligence, military and diplomatic support to Zelenskyy’s government or to Ukraine’s security services. — — This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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