Russian exile Ilya Ponomarev claims Vladimir Putin’s allies are being settled with violence

Nearly a decade after his exile, a former Russian statesman emerged from the shadows this week as a new thorn in the Kremlin’s side.

In a shocking televised address from Kyiv last week, 47-year-old ex-politician Ilya Ponomarev debuted as a self-proclaimed messenger for what he says is an underground resistance movement operating in Russia, the National Republican Army. Ponomarev read out the group’s so-called manifesto on February Morning, a Kiev TV channel he founded seven months ago, in which they claimed responsibility for the car bomb in which Darya Dugina, daughter of Russian nationalist and staunch Putin ally Alexander Dugin, was killed .

“The activists have elected a holy figure of Russian fascism and it is not my place to criticize the aim of their act,” Ponomarev said in an interview with The Daily Beast, claiming to have been in contact with the “resistance fighters” since April . In addition to relaying their messages, Ponomarev said his “role is to provide commercial support to the group when needed.”

Ponomarev’s connection to the alleged partisan movement is unclear, and he was unable to provide any evidence that they played a role in the attack on Dugina. But that hasn’t stopped a wave of press coverage that spotlighted Ponomarev’s claims and fueled skepticism that Russian citizens could be behind the car bombing incident. (Russia has since pinned the attack on a Ukrainian agent, though Kyiv denies any responsibility.)

“We received almost daily videos and text messages from the Russian rebels about their actions,” Ponomarev said. “They throw Molotov cocktails at military posts, blow up trains, blow out tires with Russian war symbols on them, and attack activists raising money for the war.”

A Russian passport is set to burst into flames started by Ilya Ponomarev, a former State Duma member who emigrated from Russia in 2014.

Pavlo Bagmut/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty

Ponomarev’s February morning associate Aleksey Baranovsky, a former supporter of far-right organizations in Russia, told The Daily Beast that the media group received messages from the National Republican Army within an hour of the attack on Dugina in Moscow. He claimed the group asked Ponomarev to represent them and to share their manifesto in which they promised that “those who do not give up their power will be crushed by us”.

“The initiative came from the group. They acted absolutely autonomously. We don’t call them terrorists, they are an army of rebels,” Baranovsky told The Daily Beast. He said about 10 station employees met with Ponomarev on Sunday to discuss his speech. “He read the statement we received and commented on it.”

Ponomarev fled Russia for the first time in 2014 after becoming the only member of the Russian parliament to vote against the annexation of occupied Crimea. He eventually settled in Kyiv, where he became the managing director of a US investment firm in the oil and gas industry in Ukraine, but without much success. He told The Daily Beast that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted him to set up his media group, staffed entirely by Russian exiles living in Ukraine. “My war started that day,” he also told The Daily Beast.

Roman Popkov, the exiled former leader of Russia’s far-left National Bolshevik Party, told The Daily Beast he was convinced the partisan group actually existed. “I personally know maybe 10 people in the partisan movement in Russia … they are 20-25 year old activists with left and right political views,” he told The Daily Beast. “The war changed Ponomarev a lot. He read the manifesto with a stony face – we are all different now after seeing horrific violence and atrocities during this war.”

However, some independent experts have expressed skepticism about Ponomarev’s claims and reputation. Moscow-based radical activist group specialist Alexander Verkhovsky suspects the group is just an army in Ponomarev’s mind.

“Of course there are anti-war partisan groups in Russia. They throw Molotov cocktails, blow things up, but if they were united in one big army, they would at least have had a channel on Telegram independent of Ponomarev,” Verkhovsky told The Daily Beast. “But let’s see what else they do.”

However, Ponomarev’s longtime ally, former Russian MP Gennady Gudkov, said he had no doubts about a rebel movement made up of Russian exiles in Ukraine and that they could be linked to the partisan movement in Russia. “I could guarantee you that Ponomarev is not crazy and that he is not an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service, although there could be a power playing him on their behalf,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast, referring to the suspicion that Ponomarev’s so-called “partisan connections” are in fact covert Kremlin agents. “But I can also confirm that there are dozens of Russian exiles in Ukraine fighting the war against Putin’s army and that Ponomarev knows these guys well.”


Russian State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomarev (R) with anti-Putin opposition activists at a rally in support of imprisoned Left Front leader Sergey Udalsov December 29, 2011 in Pushkin Square in Moscow.

Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty

Tetiana Popova, a Ukrainian politician and media expert, also has doubts about Ponomarev’s story. “We have known Ponomarev for many years, mainly as a businessman – we think he really wishes to see an armed rebel movement in Russia, but his source can easily be a Russian federal security service and the NRA could be their idea,” she said The Daily Beast. “Also, we don’t understand why Dugin’s family was targeted. It is just a finger, not the hand of those who are waging the war against Ukraine.”

Russia was quick to claim that it had solved the case of Dugina’s assassination. On the eve of her funeral, the FSB accused a Ukrainian woman of carrying out the attack remotely from a Mini Cooper, claiming she brought her daughter in the vehicle. “The whole thing looks like a poorly staged show,” Popov said.

Whether or not the Russian “inquiry” holds water, Ponomarev says he’s already being bugged by those who don’t believe his story or say he’s become too “radical.” In his interview with The Daily Beast, Ponomarev complained that many of his longtime friends in the Russian opposition turned their backs on him after his announcement, adding that he was kicked out of the Free Russia Forum, which is scheduled to take place at the end of this month in Vilnius.

“All of you, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Garry Kasparov, Yulia Latynina, are afraid to negotiate with me,” Ponomarev said. But he insisted he wouldn’t let that stop him: “I’m at war.” Russian exile Ilya Ponomarev claims Vladimir Putin’s allies are being settled with violence


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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