‘Our task is to finish off Putin’ Ex-lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev on Daria Dugina’s death, the National Republican Army, and bringing down the Russian regime
Interview by Svetlana Reiter. Abridged translation by Eilish Hart.
On August 21, ex-State Duma lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev announced that a Russian partisan group was responsible for the car explosion that killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of prominent Eurasianist philosopher and ideologue Alexander Dugin. The organization, called the National Republican Army, had never been mentioned publicly before — and its manifesto appeared online almost simultaneously with Ponomarev’s announcement. Today, Ponomarev is based in Ukraine and his stance is ardently pro-Kyiv. But he has come under criticism in the past for his deep ties to the Russian elite: his father worked in the Russian government in the early years of Vladimir Putin’s regime, his mother was a senator, and in addition to being a former lawmaker, Ponomarev once worked closely with former First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov. In an interview with Meduza special correspondent Svetlana Reiter, Ilya Ponomarev discussed Daria Dugina’s murder, his past ties to the Russian elite, and how he thinks Russia’s war against Ukraine will end.
Please note. The following translation has been lightly edited and abridged for length and clarity. The full Q&A is available (in Russian) here.
The FSB announced today that it found the perpetrator behind murder of Daria Dugina — Ukrainian national Natalya Vovk, who allegedly came to Russia with her 12-year-old daughter, followed Dugina, and then left for Estonia through Pskov.
She had nothing to do with this act. When this message appeared I contacted the people with whom we communicate in Russia. They said, ‘No, it’s not her.” She’s not quite an outsider, but she has no, shall we say, immediate relevance [to this story].
Why are you confident she’s not involved?
I didn’t say that she wasn’t involved in the deed itself. I said that she isn’t the person who carried out this attack. I say this from the words of people [from the National Republican Army], with whom I am in contact. This isn’t the person who carried out the attack, but this is a person who deserves protection.
Did you somehow contribute to her leaving Russia?
In some way, yes.
You distributed a statement from the “National Republican Army,” which claimed responsibility for the murder of Daria Dugina. Did you know in advance that it was going to happen?
I was aware that something was going to happen. I had a rough idea of what — but didn’t know the place [where it would happen] and the names [of the people who would be targeted]. I knew that the people [from the National Republican Army], who we’ve been in contact with for a long time and have been communicating with since April, had been long preparing an action on a larger scale than what they’ve done so far. Up until that time, they set fire to military recruitment offices. (Editor’s note: There was no public mention of the National Republican Army prior to Ponomarev’s announcement on Sunday, August 21, 2022.) But [before Dugina’s murder] they wanted, shall we say, their brand to be positioned, to do something flashy. At a certain point they said: “Follow the news, it will happen today.”
There were some more specifics, I can’t say exactly, but there were no final details. When it happened, they sent photos from the scene [of the explosion] to confirm that it was them. They had sent along the manifesto.
There were a million photos from the scene of the explosion in the media.
These photos [did not appear] anywhere. We can’t show or publish them, since people’s safety depends on it. But I’m sure that it [what’s shown in the photos] is authentic. It was important to them to prove that it was them. Everything combined — the communication, the advanced warning, the photos after the fact — has me convinced that I was dealing with those who did it.
If you had known in advance who would be in the car, would you have tried to dissuade the NRA?
I’ll answer cynically. We are at war. This is my approach to everything that’s happening right now. Those people who are taking part in the war on the other side are legitimate targets. I absolutely agree with the approach of [my] comrades from the NRA. Both Daria and Alexander [Dugin] were absolutely legitimate targets, because they’re both involved in the ideological support of this war.
Daria, specifically, among other things, is one of those responsible for the terrorist attack that was committed against the Azov fighters in Olenivka. This person called for massacres in Ukraine — I’m convinced that she was a completely legitimate target. And don’t say that she’s an “unfortunate daughter who paid the price for her father.” She was his lieutenant, his right hand. And as far as I understand the [NRA’s] original idea [was to blow up] both of them.
Do I think this is a very effective action? No, I don’t think so. For activist circles, [Alexander] Dugin is a mythical, exaggerated figure. The great sage, the leader of the fascists, the ideologue of Novorossiya. As a person who was in the government, I know Dugin well. I’ve spoken with him a lot and I know the attitude towards him within Russian agencies perfectly well — he’s a nobody and his name is nothing.
Were there any other methods besides blowing up the car?
This isn’t a question for me. I articulate, communicate, help these people with their internal issues, with their security, but they don’t consult with me about their aims.
Would they have pressed the button had they known that only Dugina was in the car and not her father?
I don’t think so, but they saw two people getting in the car. And they thought that the second one was Dugin. And we don’t know who the second person was or what [happened] to them. (Editor’s note: There have been no reports about a second person in Dugina’s vehicle prior to this interview.)
You recorded a video from which it quite clearly follows that you support what the NRA did.
I support them.
The fact that violence begets violence doesn’t stop you? I’ll put it differently: a person on the battlefield can defend himself, but there’s no protection from a car explosion.
Somehow you don’t [seem to] understand that we are at war. There’s also no protection from the shells falling on the heads of Ukrainians because they are Ukrainians. This war wasn’t started by the NRA or Ilya Ponomarev — Putin spawned this violence and he will reap the whirlwind. I personally think it’s very important that representatives of the Russian elite understand that you won’t be able to lay low. They will have to take sides and so will all respected liberal journalists. Being in an objective position won’t be possible.
Why did the people from the NRA get in contact with you specifically?
I’m [based] in Ukraine and have access to the resources that these people need.
The last mention of your activities in Ukraine said something like “attracting investment.”
Before February 24, I was actively engaged in business, then I started actively spending the money I had made.
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There are many questions about your reputation. First there was the Left Front, then supporting [MP Yelena] Mizulina’s Internet bill, your mother was on the Federation Council, your father sat on the board of directors of a company controlled by [“Orthodox tycoon”] Konstantin Malofeev. Even Alexey Navalny called you a crook for the story with the Skolkovo foundation. Finally, you befriended [former First Deputy Chief of Staff] Vladislav Surkov.
I wasn’t friendly [with Surkov]. I worked [with him] but considered him an ideological opponent.
Okay, you worked with him on the Skolkovo Innovation Center. Taking all of this into account, why should people believe you?
That’s their business, their choice. How can I convince you, for example, to believe me? By saying I swear on my mother’s life?
Did it not occur to you that previous work fully contributed to this regime that you are now actively fighting?
This isn’t true. I’ve been in politics since 2002. When Putin came to power everything was clear right away: he was a product of the Constitution that was created after the 1993 coup d’état — [it was created] by, among others, fans of Meduza, who, unlike me, were the architects of this regime. I’ve never supported Putin, I’ve always been in the opposition. I created the Left Front, which for a long time was a radical political movement. But, of course, I’ve always tried to use the opportunities I have and revolution was never an end in itself for me.
But you worked for institutions created by this regime.
I made a conscious decision to join the State Duma — if that’s what you’re talking about, — in order to obtain legal authority.
I was talking about [former president] Dmitry Medvedev’s pet projects.
Yes, I came up with Skolkovo, it’s my project. I drafted a concept for modernizing the economy for Medvedev. He — Medvedev — turned out to be a huge dick and a big disappointment, a weak person. I was never enchanted by him, but I thought he had opportunities, which he didn’t use in the end. Generally speaking he even wanted to do it, but the guy, I repeat, is weak. [Medvedev] was afraid to go all the way and betrayed absolutely everyone around him, his entire team. [...] Everyone who helped him is either in jail or in deep disgrace. And overall I didn’t work for him — I worked for the country, to make life better for people.
At the same time, I’m not like those systemic liberals who are willing to close their eyes to the war. For me, there are things that I can’t get past. Before 2014, I did everything possible to maintain my presence in the government, to maintain all leverage. You mentioned that I voted for Mizulina’s law, but I was the only one who didn’t support the Dima Yakovlev law in the first reading [and] I voted against the gay propaganda law. [...]
If the people from the NRA were to tell you that their next act will target the people who you once worked with at the Skolkovo Innovation Center or in the State Duma, how would you react?
My actions will be entirely based on their [the targeted people’s] current position. If these people stand in support of the war…There’s the NRA’s manifesto that I’m in full agreement with about who is a legitimate target and who is not. I’m categorically against [anything] that can lead to casualties among the civilian population, but any government official, any businessman, any person integrated with this government is a legitimate target.
And what if a person is integrated with this government, supports the war, and then unexpectedly takes a stand for world peace…What is to be done if, hypothetically, they’ve already been chosen as a “legitimate target”?
I think that opportunities for defecting to the good side should [remain] open. I, for example, supported the story of Marina Ovsyannikova, although here [in Ukraine] everyone argued that she’s an FSB agent. I think that if a person did something, defected to the good side, this must be supported, no matter what. But if he didn’t manage to do so before he’s brought to justice that’s his problem.
How do you communicate with the NRA?
There are messengers [and] there is a special person who is in contact with them.
What do you help them with?
We do whatever they ask. Sometimes people need to be saved from FSB persecution, they need to be pulled out [of Russia] — we pull them out.
Let’s say you find out that [the people who need to be extracted from Russia] planted a bomb five minutes ago. Would you get them out?
Of course. Who else is there to pull out? Those who did something — not the ones who are like, “Oh, I’d go to Europe, only they won’t give me a tourist visa.” Those who planted the bomb actually need to be pulled out.
Are you going to return to Russia someday?
In the very near future. I believe that I’ve been in Russia since February 24, because since then we don’t have state borders, we have the front line. When I’ll be in Moscow I don’t know, but I think [I’ll be there] before you. Because the first to arrive will be those who will hold weapons in their hands. And now our task is to finish off Putin.
How will you finish him off by blowing up Dugin’s daughter? Can you explain?
Our task is to support any action that leads to a split in the elite. If these elites will realize that either the Russian soldiers or Russian partisans will come for them, then they will act.
Or the explosions will bring about a wave of terror inside Russia.
And? We are at war. The fact that there’s a “velvet” terror in Russia now leads to the same results as a clampdown — everyone sits in a corner and does nothing. A clampdown at the hands of Putin is the best thing he can do to make this situation evolve. Then people will start to do something. I don’t want people to go to the Kremlin, I’m against senseless acts, but supporting actions aimed at changing the Russian regime is a must.
Neither you nor I are in Russia right now.
But there’s an important difference between you and I — you’re sitting in a peaceful country and I’m not far from the front line. I joined the Territorial Defense Forces, I took up a machine gun. And then we decided that it’s more important to work on the Russian side of things — just in order to win.
How do you think all of this will end?
I think it will end with our victory and the physical death of Vladimir Putin. I think it will end with the destruction of the Russian Federation and the creation of a new republic.
Don’t you feel sorry [for the Russian Federation]?
On the contrary, the people there need to be saved.