Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian intelligence agencies Monday for orchestrating a bombing at a St. Petersburg cafe that killed a Russian military blogger who fervently supported Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and they arrested a suspect in the attack.
Ukrainian authorities did not directly respond to the accusation, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he doesn’t think about events in Russia, and a senior official earlier described the bombing as part of Russia’s internal turmoil.
Vladlen Tatarsky, 40, was killed Sunday as he led a discussion at the cafe on the banks of the Neva River in the historic heart of Russia’s second-largest city, officials said. Tatarsky, who had filed regular reports from the front lines in Ukraine, was the pen name for Maxim Fomin. He had accumulated more than 560,000 followers on his Telegram messaging app channel.
Over 30 people were wounded in the blast, and 10 of them were in grave condition, authorities said.
Investigators said they believe the bomb was hidden in a bust of Tatarsky that was given to him just before the explosion. A video showed him making jokes about the bust and putting it on a table next to him.
Russian authorities announced the arrest of Darya Trepova, a 26-year-old St. Petersburg resident who was seen on video presenting Tatarsky with the bust. Last year, Trepova was detained by police for taking part in rallies against the war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022.
The Interior Ministry released a brief video showing Trepova telling a police officer that she brought the statuette that exploded to the cafe. When asked who gave it to her, she said she would explain it later.
According to Russian media reports, Trepova told investigators she was asked to deliver the bust, but didn’t know what was inside it.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee, which coordinates counterterrorism operations, said the bombing was “planned by Ukrainian special services,” noting Trepova was an “active supporter” of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest foe who had exposed official corruption and organized massive antigovernment protests, is serving a nine-year fraud sentence that he has denounced as a political vendetta.
Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov warned that authorities could push the false allegations of involvement in the attack by supporters of the opposition leader to set the stage for another trial that would extend his prison term. He also charged that Russian security agencies could be behind the explosion to cast Navalny’s supporters as an “internal enemy.”
According to Russian media reports, police tracked down Trepova using surveillance cameras, although she reportedly cut her long blond hair short to change her look and moved to a different apartment in an apparent attempt to escape.
Comparison to Previous Assassination
Military bloggers and patriotic commentators compared the bombing to the August 2022 assassination of nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina, who was killed when a remote-controlled explosive planted in her SUV blew up as she drove on the outskirts of Moscow.
Russian authorities blamed Ukraine’s military intelligence for Dugina’s death, but Kyiv denied involvement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the attacks on Dugina and Tatarsky proved that Moscow was justified in launching what it describes as “the special military operation” in Ukraine.
Moscow has offered a series of explanations for the invasion, denounced by Ukraine and the West an unprovoked act of aggression, while providing little if any evidence for the charges.
“Russia has faced the Kyiv regime, which has supported terrorist activities,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “That is why the special military operation is being conducted.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the St. Petersburg millionaire restaurateur who heads the Wagner Group military contractor spearheading 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 Ukrainian authorities in the bombing, saying it was likely launched by a “group of radicals” unrelated to the government in Kyiv.
Zelenskyy brushed off questions about the bombing.
“I don’t think about what is happening in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Russia should think about this. I am thinking about our country,” Zelenskyy told journalists.
While not claiming responsibility for various explosions, bombings and other attacks within Russia since the invasion began, Ukrainian authorities have often greeted them jubilantly and insisted on Ukraine’s right to launch such assaults.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak responded to the news about the bombing by casting as a result of infighting in Russia.
“Spiders are eating each other in a jar,” he tweeted in English late Sunday. “Question of when domestic terrorism would become an instrument of internal political fight was a matter of time.”
On Monday, Podolyak said that Russia has “returned to the Soviet classics,” pointing to its increasing isolation, the rise of espionage cases and an increase in political repression.
Last week, Russia’s security service announced the arrest of American reporter Evan Gershkovich on spying charges, the first time a U.S. correspondent has been detained on such accusations since the Cold War. His newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, vehemently rejected the allegations and demanded his release.
Tatarsky was born in Ukraine’s industrial heartland of the Donbas and worked as a coal miner before starting a furniture trade business. When he ran into financial difficulties, he robbed a bank and was sentenced to prison.
He fled custody after a Russia-backed separatist rebellion engulfed the Donbas in 2014, weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Then he joined separatist rebels and fought on the front line before turning to blogging.