US officials would not say who in the American government delivered the admonishments or whom in the Ukrainian government they were delivered to. It was not known what Ukraine’s response was.
While the Pentagon and spy agencies have shared sensitive battlefield intelligence with the Ukrainians, helping them zero in on Russian command posts, supply lines and other key targets, the Ukrainians have not always told US officials what they plan to do.
The United States has pressed Ukraine to share more about its war plans, with mixed success. Earlier in the war, US officials acknowledged that they often knew more about Russian war plans — thanks to their intense collection efforts — than they did about Kyiv’s intentions.
Cooperation has since increased. During the summer, Ukraine shared its plans for its September military counteroffensive with the United States and Britain.
US officials also lack a complete picture of the competing power centres within the Ukrainian government, including the military, the security services and Zelensky’s office, a fact that may explain why some parts of the Ukrainian government may not have been aware of the plot.
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,” 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.
The war in Ukraine is at an especially dangerous moment. The United States has tried carefully to avoid unnecessary escalation with Moscow throughout the conflict — in part by telling Kyiv not to use American equipment or intelligence to conduct attacks inside of Russia. But now, the recent battlefield successes by Ukraine have prompted Russia to respond with a series of escalatory steps, like conducting a partial mobilisation and moving to annex swathes of eastern Ukraine.
Concern is growing in Washington that Russia may be considering further steps to intensify the war, including by renewing efforts to assassinate prominent Ukrainian leaders. Zelensky would be the top target of Russian assassination teams, as he was during the Russian assault on Kyiv earlier in the war.
But now, US officials said Russia could target a wide variety of Ukrainian leaders, many of whom have less protection than Zelenskyy.
The United States and Europe had imposed sanctions on Dugina. She shared her father’s worldview and was accused by the West of spreading Russian propaganda about Ukraine.
Russia opened a murder investigation after Dugina’s assassination, calling the explosion that killed her a terrorist act. Dugina was killed instantly in the explosion, which occurred in the Odintsovo district, an affluent area in Moscow’s suburbs.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.