‘Decision-making centers’ — The Russian response to Dugina’s killing

Matthew McKeever
8 min readAug 21, 2022

I’ve been using Telegram to try and get a sense of how consumers of Russian media respond to government -aligned or -backed messaging, the thought being that one can only understand how propaganda works if one understands how it is received.

To that end, I’ve been considering the react emojis that some channels have available. Some data is available here, and also on my Twitter quasi-bot (quasi- cause I can’t find a decent host online for it). A drawback of this method is that not all channels enable reactions, and among such channels are the more interesting ones.

This week, I tried a new strategy to get reception information. Some channels which don’t allow emoji reacts do allow text responses. I figured that the more responses a post receives, the more popular or noteworthy it is. What stories get people writing responses?

To answer that, I took a look at two very notable but so far mostly unnoted by me channels, that of Margarita Simonyan, who is the head of RT, and Maria Zakharova, who is a government spokesperson. They are both among the most forward-facing pro-government mouthpieces, with respectively 1/3 of a million and one half of a million followers.

I didn’t have any expectation going forward, but unsurprisingly the results clustered around the killing, last night,of Darya Dugina, the daughter of … hard to describe Alexandr Dugin. I’m not overly familiar with his work but it’s a sort of Russia-first nationalism dolled up with theoretical trimmings from a range of disciplines — international relations, philosophy, and so on. For some he’s a key source of Putin’s ideology, for others less so.

Regardless, the killing of his daughter, in what appears to have been an attempt on him, is the story of the day. Among Twitter commentators, there are many dark pronouncements about the significance of the killing (e.g); I’ve seen some suggest it’s a false flag, in part based on the Russian propaganda reaction. So let’s take a look at those reactions.

(Before going on, some technical details if you want to recreate: if you’re using pyrogram, it’s the `get_discussion_replies_count` method you’ll want to use. You’ll get rate-limited if you try too much, but halting the script gets around that problem.)

Wikipedia, for which see image credit, is pretty good on Dugin, as far as I can tell.

Consider first Simonyan: average replies for her for this week was 545, the largest getting 2566, the smallest 94. Her most replied-to story, with around 2500 responses, for the whole week, came last night, and read simply:

Центры принятия решений!

Центры принятия решений!!

Центры принятия решений!!!”

Decision-making centers

Decision-making centers

Decision-making centers

This needs explanation. Russian tabloid Argumenty I Fakty provides one:

The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation said that they would strike at Ukrainian decision-making centers if attempts of sabotage on Russian territory continue … Usually, it means headquarters where high-ranking military and civilian officials work, who are responsible for making military-political decisions in the country, including during wartime.

The significance is clear, surely: Simonyan is suggesting an attack on the decision-making centers in Ukraine in retaliation for what she takes to be the Ukrainian killing of Dugina (as far as I know there’s no evidence for this). It’s noteworthy that this message, reposted on Solovyov’s channel, was, as my bot shows, his most popular post of the day, and so its meaning was not lost, and was popular, for many.

The second is a report of a puff piece from the New York Post that isn’t particularly interesting. The third is a video clip of some music concert with soldiers in attendance, with accompanying text:

В конце зрители кричат ‘спасибо’ спецназовцам на сцене. И плачут. Просто посмотрите это

At the end the audience cry ‘thank you’ at the commandos on stage. And cry. Just watch it.

I don’t know what the concert is and google didn’t help, but this seems pretty straightforward and understandable war cheer-leading.

The fourth is

Все, кто сейчас потешается над смертью Даши, упражняется в сарказме и троллинге, все эти мундепы, блогерки и активисты, должны быть арестованы. Время выносить мусор

Everyone who is now making fun of Dasha’s death, practicing sarcasm and trolling, all these mundeps, bloggers and activists, should be arrested. Time to take out the trash.

‘Mundep’ is short ‘municipal ̶d̶e̶p̶a̶r̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶’̶)̶ deputy’ (thanks to a reader for the correction — see the first comment on this story for helpful info), and in this context means, I think, someone working at such a governmental role who came out against the war although I’m not sure.

And the fifth:

Как же хочется из нашего кубанского Ейска рвануть в уже наш Мариуполь на ракете по Азову — там же километров 70 всего, если правильно помню, — и чтобы все как раньше: почти пресные брызги в лицо, дельфинья охрана, летучие стаи хамсы-сероспинки, могучие осетры, липкое марево, блики, соленое солнце… Все, как было тогда, когда мы еще не потеряли то, что так мечтали потерять. Скорей бы уже.

How do you want to rush from our Kuban Yeysk to our Mariupol on a rocket along Azov — there are 70 kilometers in total, if I remember correctly — and everything is as before: almost insipid splashes in the face, dolphin guards, flying flocks of anchovy-grayback, mighty sturgeon, sticky haze, glare, salty sun… Everything, as it was then, when we had not yet lost what we so dreamed of losing. Hurry up.

I must confess to having no idea here — is it a quotation or parody? Kuban Yeysk denotes, I think, a holiday place for Russians, but beyond that I don’t know. I guess it must be a parody from something but google turned up nothing.

Regardless of the uncertainty, that 2/5 of the most reacted-to stories of the last week occurred since yesterday would suggest the Dugina death is significant; more important, I think, is the overwhelming popularity of the ‘decision-making centers’ message, given it is proposing what must be close to a war crime (recall the ‘civilians’ bit in the AiF gloss).

Let’s turn to Zakharova. I reckon we get roughly the same from her. Her first most responded to post is one about her holidays; her second

Вынуждена читать, как глумятся над Дугиным и его дочкой.
1. Александр Гельевич, Ваша трагедия стала болью миллионов. Поверьте, её сейчас переживают как свою люди по всему миру. Потому что люди. Нелюди глумятся.
2. Я проснулась в два ночи. Не знаю, почему. Дежурно проверила телефон. Прочитала эту новость. Увидела кадры с Александром Дугиным, взирающим на пылающий автомобиль с дочкой. Трагедии были разные. Но эта напомнила главное: “Отче! прости им, ибо не ведают, что творят” (Лк. 23:34). \nКак же хочется спросить: «Как же не ведают?». Но Отче разберётся.
3. Те, кто глумятся, делают очень важное дело — обличают сами себя, кричат о своём расчеловечивании, обнажая всю мерзость наших дней. Нельзя радеть за права человека и радоваться убийству человека. Лживо насквозь. \nДелают они это для тех, кто ещё пребывает в очаровании жуткой лживой химерой и верит в подменённые ценности. На чьей стороне правда? На той стороне, где радующиеся гибели от взрыва молодой женщины, правды нет. Вон, глумящиеся как раскричались — пора уже услышать и понять. 4. Есть суд земной. И он будет, уверена. А есть Божий. И он будет, знаю. Нам нельзя предвосхищать ни то, ни другое. Но найти способ распространить имеющиеся правовые нормы на это информационное насилие, необходимо. \nЭто надо не Александру Дугину. Это надо человечеству, чтобы держаться пути, ведущего к свету, а не свернуть на дорогу к обрыву. \nЕсть законы, и пора их уже применить.”

I had to read how they mock Dugin and his daughter.
1. Alexander Gelevich, your tragedy has become the pain of millions. Believe me, people around the world are now experiencing it as their own. Because people. The wicked sneer.
2. I woke up at two in the morning. I do not know why. As usual checked the phone. I read this news. I saw footage of Alexander Dugin looking at a flaming car with his daughter. The tragedy was different. But this one reminded me of the main thing: “Father! forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). \nHow you want to ask: “How can they not know?”. But the Father will understand.
3. Those who mock are doing a very important thing — they denounce themselves, shout about their dehumanization, exposing all the abomination of our days. It is impossible to rejoice for human rights and rejoice in the murder of a person. Lies through and through. \nThey do this for those who are still fascinated by the terrible deceitful chimera and believe in substituted values. Which side is the truth on? There is no truth on the other side, where those rejoicing in the death of a young woman from the explosion, there is no truth. Look, those who scoff as they shouted — it’s time to hear and understand. 4. There is an earthly court. And he will, I’m sure. And there is God. And he will, I know. We cannot anticipate either one or the other. But it is necessary to find a way to extend the existing legal norms to this informational violence. \nThis is not for Alexander Dugin. This is what humanity needs in order to keep on the path that leads to the light, and not to turn onto the road to the precipice. \nThere are laws, and it’s time to apply them.”

The rhetoric is pretty overblown — I’m not familiar enough with her to know if that’s her normal style or she’s putting it on. The sentence beginning ‘It is necessary’ reads

Но найти способ распространить имеющиеся правовые нормы на это информационное насилие, необходимо.

It’s necessary to be able to widen the existing legal norms [to take into account] this informational violence’

Informational violence’ which might include things like propaganda and adverts and mishandling data, seems hardly appropriate here. Regardless, it seems we’re two-for-two on influential Russian voices suggesting quasi-judicial responses aimed at Ukraine in response for the killing. Recall there’s no evidence for Ukrainian involvement (at least, that I’ve seen or they’ve presented).

Her fourth is a snap from her holiday. And her fifth reads:

Правоохранительные органы России занимаются расследованием гибели Дарьи Дугиной. \n\nЕсли подтвердится украинский след, — а такую версию озвучил глава ДНР Денис Пушилин, и она должна быть проверена компетентными органами, — то речь нужно вести о политике государственного терроризма, реализуемой киевским режимом. Фактов за эти годы накопилось предостаточно: от политических призывов к насилию до руководства и участия государственных структур Украины в преступлениях. Ждём результатов расследования.


Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating the death of Daria Dugina. If the Ukrainian trace is confirmed — and this version was voiced by the head of the DPR Denis Pushilin, and it must be verified by the competent authorities — then we should talk about the policy of state terrorism implemented by the Kyiv regime. Facts have accumulated over the years: from political calls for violence to the leadership and participation of Ukrainian state structures in crimes. Waiting for the results of the investigation.

Again, it’s possible I just missed it, but I didn’t know the ‘trace’ was in a place where it just needs to be ‘confirmed’.

So I think there’s something to be learned from this. Some more statistical information would be nice (is Simonyan’s ‘decision-making centers’ an extreme outlier? What sort of pieces elicit tame reactions? Is replied-toness generally a good signal for importance) But I think there’s at least a weak and prima facie case for thinking that Dugina killing is an important event, and that Telegram-mining of the sort displayed here is useful for keeping track of it, and perhaps other such important events.