Russia blames Ukraine for bomb that killed military blogger

Ukrainian authorities did not directly respond to the allegation, but President Volodymyr Zelensky said in reference to the attack that he does not think about events in Russia, and a senior Ukrainian official previously described the bombing as part of Russia’s internal turmoil.

Vladlen Tatarsky, 40, was killed on Sunday while leading a discussion at a cafe on the banks of the Neva River in the historic heart of Russia’s second-largest city, authorities said.

Tatarsky, who had made regular reports from the front lines in the Ukraine, was the pseudonym of Maxim Fomin. He has amassed more than 560,000 followers on his channel on the messaging app Telegram.

The bombing, which also injured more than 30 people, was the latest attack inside Russia against a high-profile pro-war figure. Last year, a nationalist television commentator was killed when a bomb exploded in her car outside Moscow.

Investigators said they believe the bomb in the cafe was hidden in a bust of the blogger given to him by an audience member just before the explosion. A video showed him joking about the bust and placing it on a table next to him.

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Russian policemen are seen at the scene of an explosion at a cafe in St. Petersburg, Russia (AP Photo)

Russian authorities announced the arrest of Darya Trepova, a 26-year-old St. Petersburg resident seen in a video presenting the bust to Tatarsky, classifying the case as an act of terrorism.

Police had detained Trepova for participating in an anti-war demonstration on February 24, 2022, the day of the invasion, and she spent 10 days in jail.

The Interior Ministry released a video showing Trepova telling a police officer that she brought the exploding figurine into the cafe. When she was asked who gave it to her, she said that she would explain it later. The circumstances under which Trepova spoke were unclear, including whether she was under duress.

According to Russian media reports, Trepova told investigators that she was asked to hand over the bust, but she did not know what was inside.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee, which coordinates anti-terror operations, said the attack was “planned by Ukrainian special services,” noting that Trepova was an “active supporter” of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest foe who exposed official corruption and organized mass anti-government protests, is serving a nine-year sentence for fraud that he has denounced as a political vendetta.

Navalny’s associate, Ivan Zhdanov, warned that authorities could use the accusation of involvement by political opponents as a pretext to extend his prison sentence. He also accused Russian security agencies of being behind the explosion in order to portray Navalny’s supporters as an “internal enemy.”

According to Russian media reports, police tracked Trepova down using surveillance cameras, though she reportedly cut her long blonde hair to change her appearance and moved to a different apartment in an apparent attempt to escape.

Military bloggers and patriotic commentators compared the bombing to the August 2022 murder of nationalist television commentator Darya Dugina, who was killed when a remote-controlled explosive planted in her vehicle went off as she was driving on the outskirts of Moscow.

APTOPIX Russia Coffee Explosion
The site of an explosion at a cafe in St. Petersburg, Russia (AP Photo)

Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for Ms. Dugina’s death, but kyiv denied involvement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the attacks on Dugina and Tatarsky showed that Moscow was justified in launching what it describes as “the special military operation” in Ukraine.

Moscow has offered a range of explanations for the invasion, denounced by Ukraine and the West as an unprovoked act of aggression, and has provided little or no evidence for the charges.

“Russia has confronted the kyiv regime, which has supported terrorist activities,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “That is why the special military operation is taking place.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the millionaire St. Petersburg restaurateur who runs the Wagner Group military contractor leading Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine, said he owned the cafe and allowed patriotic groups to use it for meetings. He said he doubts the involvement of the Ukrainian authorities in the attack, saying it was likely launched by a “group of radicals” unrelated to the Kiev government.

Zelensky dismissed questions about the attack.

“I don’t think about what is happening in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Russia should think about this. I am thinking of our country,” Zelensky told reporters.

While not claiming responsibility for various explosions, bombings and other attacks inside Russia since the invasion began, Ukrainian authorities have often greeted them with glee and insisted on Ukraine’s right to launch such attacks.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak responded to news of the bombing by calling it the result of infighting in Russia.

“The spiders are eating each other in a jar,” he tweeted in English on Sunday night. “The question of when domestic terrorism would become an instrument of internal political struggle was a matter of time.”

On Monday, Podolyak said that Russia has “returned to the Soviet classics,” pointing to its growing isolation, rising spying and increased political repression.

Last week, Russia’s security service announced the arrest of US reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges, the first time a US correspondent has been detained on such charges since the Cold War. His newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, vehemently denied the allegations and demanded his release.

Mr. Tatarsky was born in the industrial heart of Ukraine, Donbas, and worked as a coal miner before starting a furniture trading business. When he ran into financial difficulties, he robbed a bank and was sentenced to prison.

He fled custody after a Russian-backed separatist rebellion engulfed Donbas in 2014, weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. She later joined the separatist rebels and fought on the front lines before turning to blogging.

While Russian authorities have silenced alternative voices by shutting down independent media outlets critical of the war and jailing critics of President Vladimir Putin, military bloggers have played an increasingly visible role. While they strongly support the war, they have also frequently pointed out flaws in Russia’s military strategy and have at times been critical of the military’s top brass.


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