Pro-Kremlin blogger killed in St Petersburg explosion

Pro-Kremlin blogger killed in St Petersburg explosion
A bomb tore through a cafe in St Petersburg, killing a prominent pro-Russia war blogger and injuring another 25 people, in what Russian officials are saying is a Kyiv-backed assassination. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 3, 2023

Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky was killed by a bomb blast in a St Petersburg cafe on April 2 in the second assassination on Russian soil of a prominent pro-Russia media figure.

Russia's state Investigative Committee has opened a murder investigation after a bomb went off in a St Petersburg's café where Tatarsky was holding a pro-war seminar with his followers.

Russian media reports that the café was owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the infamous Wagner PMC (private military company).

The governor of St Petersburg said that 25 people were wounded and 19 of them were being treated in hospital. Tatarsky was the only fatality.

Russian social media reported that a woman attended the meeting and handed Tatarsky a trophy that contained several hundred grams of high explosive that detonated a few minutes later, instantly killing Tatarsky.

Reports this morning say that the woman has been identified by CCTV cameras that carpet the city and arrested by local police.

Prigozhin is reportedly in Bakhmut, where he claims his Wagner forces have captured the city. Videos on social media show him with a flag with Tatarsky's name on it, claiming that he was raising the flag over the centre of Bakhmut, which has been a disputed hotspot in the Ukraine war for the last seven months.

“In this new video, Wagner’s Prigozhin claims the capture of Bakhmut’s city council at 23:00 on Sunday. He is brandishing a Russian flag which, he says, has a dedication to the slain Maksim Fomin (Vladlen Tatarsky) written on it. Also claims the “de jure” fall of Bakhmut,” bne IntelliNews contributor Leonid Ragozin said in a tweet.

“Prigozhin says the Ukrainians remain in the western districts of the city, but 'Bakhmut has been taken de jure',” Ragozin added.

Prigozhin said that he would "not blame the Kyiv regime" for the killing; both assassinations that have happened on Russian soil were “likely the work of a group of radicals hardly related to the government," but not of Ukraine.

But another leading Russian official pointed the finger at Ukraine, without providing evidence. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the absence of reaction in Washington, London and Paris "speaks for itself, given their ostensible concern for the well-being of journalists and freedom of expression,” she wrote on the ministry's website.

The Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on twitter the killing was a "domestic terrorism" issue and an internal affair of Russia’s own making.

"The spiders are eating each other in a jar," Podolyak tweeted.

The killing is the second assassination of a prominent pre-war media figure on Russian soil since the war in Ukraine started over a year ago.

In August last year, journalist Darya Dugina, the daughter of prominent Russian ideolog Alexander Dugin, known as “Putin’s brain”, was killed by a car bomb in Moscow. Many believed that the bomb was targeting her father, as she was driving her father’s car, who had at the last minute decided to travel with a friend and gave his car to his daughter.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) quickly concluded an investigation and blamed Ukraine’s security services for the killing. That accusation was apparently confirmed after the White House rebuked Kyiv for the killing, as an act of state-sponsored terrorism. Russian President Vladimir Putin personally attended Dugina’s funeral, but has denied that Dugin has any influence over his thinking.

The killing of Tatarsky, whose real name was Maxim Fomin, appears to be a second political assassination. Tatarsky has fought in Ukraine and has more than 560,000 followers on his Telegram channel. He was one of the most prominent of the military bloggers and championed Russia's war effort in Ukraine whilst often criticising the army top brass.

TASS news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying the bomb was hidden in a miniature statue that was handed to Tatarsky as he addressed a group of people in the cafe. Mash, a Telegram channel with links to Russian law enforcement, posted a video that appeared to show Tatarsky, microphone in hand, being presented with a statuette of a helmeted soldier a minute before the explosion happened.

Prigozhin said that the cafe previously belonged to him but he has since given it to "patriotic" activists who have been holding meetings there.

Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-installed leader of the part of Ukraine's Donetsk province that is occupied by Russia, suggested publicly that Ukraine was to blame, Reuters reports.

"He was killed vilely. Terrorists cannot do otherwise. The Kyiv regime is a terrorist regime. It needs to be destroyed, there's no other way to stop it," Pushilin said, as cited by Reuters.