An explosion ripped through a cafe RussiaSunday in the second-largest city, where a well-known military blogger and staunch supporter of the war in Ukraine. Some reports said that a bomb was embedded in a bust of the blogger given to him as a gift.
US officials said Vladlen Tatarsky was killed when he led a discussion in the café on the bank of the Neva River in the historic heart of St. Petersburg. About 30 people were injured in the blast, the Russian Health Ministry reported.
Russian media and military bloggers said Tatarsky was meeting with members of the public when a woman presented him with a box containing a bust of him that had apparently exploded. A patriotic Russian group organizing the event said it had taken security measures, but acknowledged that those measures “proved insufficient”.
In videotaped comments, a witness said a woman who identified herself as Nastya asked questions and exchanged comments with Tatarsky during the discussion.
The witness, Alisa Smotrova, quoted Nastya as saying she made a bust of the blogger but that guards asked her to leave it at the door, thinking it might be a bomb. Nastya and Tatarsky joked and laughed. She then went to the door, took the bust and presented it to Tatarsky.
He reportedly placed the bust on a table nearby, after which the explosion followed. Smotrova described people running in panic, some injured by broken glass and covered in blood.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that a St. Petersburg woman, Darya Tryopova, had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the bombing. It said she had previously been detained for participating in anti-war rallies.
A video posted to channels of the Russian messaging app showed the cafe after the explosion. Tables and chairs were broken and blood-stained, and shards of glass littered the floor.
Russian media said investigators considered the bust to be the possible source of the blast, but did not rule out that an explosive device had been planted in the cafe before the event.
The Russian Commission of Inquiry, the state’s main investigative agency, has opened an investigation into murder allegations.
No one has claimed responsibility, but military bloggers and patriotic commentators immediately pointed the finger at Ukraine, comparing the bombing to the murder of Darya Dugina, a nationalist TV commentator, last August. She was killed when a remote-controlled explosive device exploded in her SUV while she was driving on the outskirts of Moscow.
Russian authorities blamed Ukraine’s military intelligence for Dugina’s death, but Kiev denied involvement.
Reacting to the latest incident, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tatarsky’s activities “have earned him the hatred of the Kiev regime” and noted that he and other Russian military bloggers have long been faced Ukrainian threats.
Dugina’s father, Alexander Dugin, a nationalist philosopher and political theorist who strongly supports the invasion of Ukraine, hailed Tatarsky as an “immortal” hero who died to save the Russian people.
“There should be no conversations with the terrorists other than about their unconditional surrender,” Dugin said. “There must be a victory parade in Kiev.”
Since fighting in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Ukrainian authorities have refrained from claiming responsibility for several fires, explosions and apparent killings in Russia. At the same time, officials in Kiev have welcomed such events and insisted that Ukraine has the right to carry out attacks in Russia.
A senior Ukrainian government official blamed the explosion that killed Tatarsky as part of internal unrest.
“Spiders eat each other in a pot,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter in English. “The question of when domestic terrorism would become an instrument of internal political struggle was a matter of time.”
Tatarsky, who had regularly submitted reports from Ukraine, was the pseudonym of Maxim Fomin, who had amassed more than 560,000 followers on his Telegram messaging channel.
Born in the Donbas, the industrial heartland of Ukraine, Tatarsky worked as a miner before starting a furniture company. When he ran into financial difficulties, he robbed a bank and was sentenced to prison. He fled from custody after a Russian-backed separatist uprising swept Donbas in 2014, weeks after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. He then joined separatist rebels and fought on the front lines before turning to blogging.
Tatarsky was known for his brutal statements and fiery pro-war rhetoric.
Following the Kremlin’s annexation last year of four regions of Ukraine that were rejected as illegal by most of the world, Tatarsky posted a video in which he vowed, “That’s all. We will beat anyone, kill anyone, rob anyone who is needed. It will all be the way we like it. God be with you.”
Military bloggers have played an increasingly prominent and influential role in the flow of information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They have almost universally defended the campaign’s objectives, but sometimes criticize Russian military strategy and tactical decisions.
At the same time, the Kremlin has silenced alternative voices against the war by shutting down news outlets, restricting public access to information and jailing critics.
Mr. Tatarsky reported extensively from the front lines during the conflict and was seen as deeply anti-Ukrainian, even among the hard-core nationalist community.
He last updated his Telegram feed a few hours before he was killed, urging the Russian military to use cluster bombs against the Ukrainian military, praising Wagner’s ads he’d seen across Russia, and outraged against plans to build a mosque near a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow. .
“It is nice to see such outdoor advertising. I also saw Wagner ads in Rostov,” he wrote today under a photo of an ad for the mercenary group in Moscow.
“But that is not yet the case in many cities. I hope the only reason is that they simply haven’t had time to order them.”
Russia has accused the Ukrainian secret service of killing Darya Dugina, the daughter of an ultranationalist, in a car bombing near Moscow last year.