Russian authorities have detained a woman in St Petersburg on suspicion of orchestrating an explosion in a café in the centre of the city that killed a prominent pro-war blogger.
Maxim Fomin, known publicly as Vladlen Tatarsky who was one of the most vocal supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was killed on Sunday afternoon in a blast at the café where he was holding a meet-and-greet event with followers and fans.
The Russian state investigative committee said on Monday it had detained a woman named Darya Trepova on suspicion of being involved in his death.
Earlier, the internal ministry issued a wanted notice for a 26-year-old woman of that name, sharing three photos of a young woman with blonde hair. Videos on social media also appeared to show police raiding her apartment on Sunday night.
Russia’s health ministry said 32 people had been injured, and 10 were in serious condition. Its investigative committee has opened a criminal case into “murder by a publicly dangerous method”.
After the explosion at the café, which sent dozens of people racing into the street, local news reports said Tatarsky had been handed a large statuette of himself, which may have been packed with explosives.
Security camera footage showed a woman in a long black coat carrying a large cardboard box to the venue. Another video, apparently recorded by someone in the audience, showed Tatarsky unpacking the gift in front of a room full of people, against the backdrop of a wall-sized promotional image of his face surrounded by a halo of assault rifles, bazookas and other weapons.
Trepova was detained in an apartment belonging to a friend of her husband’s, local news outlet Fontanka reported, adding that she had a flight booked to Uzbekistan.
The operation was carefully planned and involved several people, the RBC magazine cited a source in the internal ministry as saying. It also cited a source there saying that Trepova had been detained at an anti-war protest in St Petersburg in February last year and held for 10 days.
The café where the blast took place had alleged links to Wagner mercenary group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. The bar hosts a discussion club at weekends called “Cyber Front Z” — Z being a symbol of those supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s true, I did give the café over to the patriotic movement Cyber Front Z, which held various seminars there,” Prigozhin said. He drew a parallel between the incident and the killing of Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent pro-Kremlin nationalist ideologue, in an explosion last year.
“Everything is similar. But I wouldn’t blame the Kyiv regime for these actions. I think a group of radicals is involved that is unlikely to have any connections to the government,” Prigozhin said in a statement to several Russian news outlets.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee (NAC) had evidence that the Ukrainian special services may have been involved in planning the “terrorist attack.”
Tatarsky, who has more than half a million followers on his Telegram channel, is one of the most prominent pro-Kremlin “military correspondents” and a native of Makiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. He had fought on the side of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as well as for units of the Luhansk People’s Republic.
Last year, his popularity soared after his video from a ceremony at the Kremlin celebrating the annexation of Ukraine’s occupied regions went viral. It showed Tatarsky saying: “We’ll defeat everyone. We’ll kill everyone. We’ll rob everyone we need to. Everything will be as we like it.”
Other Russian propagandists have called for a response. “What now? Will we forget? Will we forgive?” RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan wrote on her Telegram channel.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, linked the incident to Russia’s “internal political struggle”. “Spiders eat each other in a jar,” he wrote in a Twitter post.