Russian Secret Service has claimed that Darya Dugina was assassinated by a covert operative of Ukraine. However, more concerning is the location of the suspected assassin, which pits Russia against a NATO member state even more overtly than the proxy war in Ukraine did.
The delicate thread of social structure in Europe was on the verge of unraveling at the turn of the twentieth century. As imperial countries grew their empires, it was only a matter of time before fighting between them shattered Europe’s tranquility. Russia was pitted against Europe’s most formidable empires at the time, Austria-Hungary and Germany.
The Bosnian Crisis of 1908, which saw Austria-Hungary seize Bosnia and Herzegovina by utilizing Bulgaria’s proclamation of independence from the Ottoman Empire as a beneficial political catalyst due to its destabilization of the Balkan area, widened the schism between those empires. Austria-Hungary’s actions would prompt Russia to defend its Slavic brothers in Serbia and Montenegro, in a reaction that would forever change Russia’s position among Europe’s continental powers. While the Treaty of Berlin was amended, the political climate created by the Bosnian Crisis lighted the spark for the unavoidable onset of WWI, which was ignited with the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Bosnian-Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip.
The tenuous state of a seemingly unsustainable peace across Europe persists more than a century after the First World War, as the war in Ukraine pits Russia against the powers of Europe once more. The tension serves as an example of the proverb “nothing new under the sun,” as the volatility in 2022 Europe is similar to that of 1908. Similar to its attitude supporting the Slavic realm more than a century ago, Russia now opposes the European hegemony represented by NATO. After Darya Dugina’s murder, this century might have discovered its own Franz Ferdinand.
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The assassination of Dugina, according to the Russian Federal Security Service (“FSB”), was carried out by an undercover Ukrainian agent. The purported assassin has been identified by the FSB as Natalia Vovk. “As a result of a complex of urgent operational-search measures, the Federal Security Service has solved the murder of Russian journalist Darya Dugina, born in 1992,” the FSB revealed, going on to stress the Ukrainian government’s involvement by stating that “the crime was prepared and committed by the Ukrainian special services[.]”
The FSB investigation reveals that Vovk arrived in Russia in July before settling into the same apartment complex as Dugina. Then Vovk would go with Dugina to the festival where the bomb that killed her had been installed. Following the murder, Vovk escaped to Estonia with her daughter, who is 12 years old, according to Russian intelligence. Russian law enforcement agencies announced their intention to request her extradition after learning of her identification.
Given her father’s substantial, albeit ambiguous, reputation as one of Vladimir Putin’s most important ideologues, Ukraine was inevitably accused of carrying out Dugina’s murder. Mykhailo Podolyak, a Kiev advisor, declared that “Ukraine, of course, has nothing to do with yesterday’s explosion[.]” Kiev quickly distanced itself from any connection. President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a warning about his assumption that Dugina’s death will inescapably lead to the expansion of Russia’s military campaign, notwithstanding Ukrainian officials’ denials that they were involved in the killing.
The location of the suspected assassin pits Russia against a NATO member state even more overtly than the proxy war in Ukraine did, according to accounts of Vovk’s departure to Estonia. 2016 saw the establishment of precedent by the European Court of Justice that would support any request by Russia for Vovk’s extradition. Case law that established that criteria was established when the court determined that any European Union member state is required to grant an extradition request from any third-party non-member state, even if the request’s target is not an EU member state. This choice was made in response to a situation in which Russia asked Latvia to extradite Aleksei Petruhhin, an Estonian citizen, for charges related to drug trafficking.
If Vovk has truly sought refuge in the Baltic nation, the legal framework established by the European Court of Justice will put Estonia in a precarious position. In 2004, Estonia also acceded to NATO, in addition to the EU. Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which establishes a collective defense clause, could be triggered by any military engagement with a NATO member state, whether it takes place as far east as Tallinn or as far west as Hawai’i. This means that any military engagement with a NATO member state connotes action being taken against the entire trans-Atlantic body.
Russia has repeatedly been presented with Article 5 as a kind of Sword of Damicles to deter any intensification of the Ukrainian crisis. The disguised threat was most recently used in response to the Russian attack on the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia and the escalating incursions into Crimea by Ukrainian military forces. According to UK MP Tobias Ellwood, “Any deliberate damage causing potential radiation leak to a Ukrainian nuclear reactor would be a breach of NATO’s Article 5.” Just hours before Dugina’s murder, US Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) echoed Ellwood’s comments when he said, “This really isn’t even up for debate; any leak will kill people in NATO countries, that’s an automatic article 5[.]”
Whereas Article 5 of the NATO Charter has been invoked to intimidate Russia with further aggression, officials who have repeatedly invoked the collective defense policy have done so under the guise of trying to prevent further aggression. The death of Darya Dugina is a vastly different situation, as Russia will undoubtedly consider any action taken to extradite Vovk from Estonia as totally justifiable and in response to the murder, rather than as an offensive operation against a NATO member state. As a result of the pursuit for Vovk, Europe has returned to the political quagmire that engulfed the continent following Gravrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The core powers of Europe, however, are the ones that find themselves in a situation to be the aggressor in this historical iteration and have the potential to start a devastating war with Russia.