Of the 445 members of the Russian Duma (Parliament), Ilya Ponomarev was the only one to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As the result of his vote, Ponomarev was forced to flee Russia and now resides in Kyiv, where he has contributed significantly to the Ukrainian defense against Russian aggression. On Sunday, Ponomarev made headlines by announcing that an organization called the National Republican Army (NRA) in Russia had carried out the assassination that killed Dariya Dugina (Platonova), the daughter of Kremlin ideologist Alexander Dugin, who is known as “Putin’s Brain.” Dugina, a Russian political commentator, was killed by a car bomb Aug. 20 when driving her father’s car. During Sunday’s announcement on Ponomarev’s YouTube program, “A Morning in February,” Ponomarev expressed his backing of the NRA.
What has been the reaction since you made your announcement backing the NRA movement?
It made a lot of people in the Russian opposition nervous. I was disinvited from an opposition meeting scheduled for next week because they said they did not want to be targeted by Putin. It says all you need to know about the Russian opposition: They are afraid of what will happen to them if they speak out.
But I have always believed that actions are more important than words.
You are directly challenging Putin: Why?
Whom else would we target?! It is a war! We need to take action. How are you supporting Ukraine if not by directly fighting Putin?
If you want to assist Ukraine but do not fight Putin, you are not doing anything. We must defeat the bastard.
I have recently written a book, Does Putin Have to Die: The Story of How Russia Becomes a Democracy After Losing to Ukraine which lays out clearly my views on the urgent need to remove Putin from office and the certitude that Ukraine will be victorious. As long as Putin remains in power, the world will not be safe.
What can you tell us about the organization of the National Republican Army (NRA)?
It is a grassroots formation. It is not an organization: It is a network. I think that the cells of the network are not aware of each other’s existence, which helps it to avoid FSB surveillance. There are people from different political beliefs but I think there is a slight left-leaning orientation. However, there are certainly also people on the right involved. Its focus is against corruption, oligarchy, and abuses of power which are generally left-leaning interests; but left and right are aligned on the points in the manifesto.
How many members does it have?
My instinct tells me the actual nucleus is perhaps a dozen people but, in general, the scale of actions since April makes me believe that there are perhaps 500 – 1000 who are in the streets day-to-day, fighting and with Molotov cocktails. However, there are more than ten thousand people who are involved in networking, coordinating, and informational warfare.
When did the NRA come into existence? Why make this announcement now?
The NRA was waiting for the opportunity. They needed something high-profile for which they could become well-known. It’s not easy to prepare something like this.
A week ago, someone in the NRA told me, “Something big will happen soon.” On the day of the hit on Dugina, they called me saying, “Something will happen later today: Watch the news.” Once the hit happened, they provided me with evidence that made it clear that it was the NRA who exploded the car outside of Moscow on August 20.
Are you a member of the NRA?
I am open in my support of the NRA, but I am not a member.
Some said that the manifesto of the NRA was unclear as to the organization’s position on Russian domestic colonialism?
I don’t think that any sane person would wish to see Russia dismembered. However, the Russian Federation needs to be re-created and reset. I think we should tell all ethnic groups in Russia that if they want to go their separate way they are allowed to do so. We should help them to do what they wish but it should be done right, in a civilized fashion, with international observers, referendums conducted per international standards. We should allow people within Russia to choose their own destiny.
What is the NRA’s position on the war in Ukraine?
The war against Ukraine is illegal. The NRA unequivocally and fully supports Ukrainian sovereignty, including for Crimea and the Donbas. The NRA wishes to rebuild Russia and does not support any colonialism or other foreign adventurism.
What are the aims of the NRA?
The immediate objective of the NRA is to stop the war in Ukraine and stop Putin. In the long term, the NRA wishes to reset the formation of Russian society so that it embraces social justice, gets rid of oligarchs, and moves away from the new-liberalism approaches of Yeltsin and Putin.
Some say that the NRA is a front for the FSB. What would you say to doubters?
I would say watch the actions of the NRA: burning down military recruitment and draft offices, and openly calling for lone wolves to attack the state. The FSB would never call for lone wolf attacks – as those cannot be controlled.
Moreover, it is worth noting that the Russian state press has totally ignored the NRA’s announcement – a sign that the Russian FSB knows that this is something new, which they do not understand, nor control, and are hence clearly worried about it. Putin’s regime is more fragile than many people realize.
Why would the FSB want things like this? It shows that they are not able to control what is happening in Russia and that there is a real partisan resistance.
Do you think there are cracks in the Russian Military / FSB leadership?
There are tensions and different clans. Those clans confront each other, for sure. That is what makes the situation stable. It would be more dangerous for Putin if the clans are quiet and without sparks.
Putin likes that they run and tell him what the other side is doing when they confront each other and fight. Leveraging one against the other is how Putin maintains stability of his regime and manages the overall situation in Russia.
Do you think that the NRA’s activities will eventually be acknowledged by the Kremlin?
I think that the Kremlin will do its best to not acknowledge the NRA because it would be not only a humiliation, but it would mean there’s a legitimate grassroots organization which the Kremlin cannot control. In one way or another, eventually, there will be an action or attack which simply no longer can be denied by the authorities.
Even in the case of Dugina, how can someone plan and spend so much to assassinate someone and the Russian authorities blame it on Ukraine? It is absurd. People will realize that there is something bigger happening.
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