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Factbox: Who was Vladlen Tatarsky and why was he targeted?


A portrait of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, (real name Maxim Fomin), who was killed in the cafe explosion the day before, is placed among flowers near the blast site in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 3, 2023. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky was killed in a bomb attack in a St Petersburg cafe on Sunday in which some 30 other people were wounded. Here’s what we know so far.

Tatarsky – real name Maxim Fomin – was among the best-known members of an influential group of military bloggers who have provided a running commentary on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although frequently scathing about the defence establishment, they have been enthusiastic cheerleaders for the war and avoided direct criticism of President Vladimir Putin. Tatarsky, 40, was among those who publicly demanded that Russia pursue the war even more aggressively. For example, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Kherson after Russia retreated from the city last November, Tatarsky demanded to know why Moscow had not taken the chance to assassinate him with a drone.

Tatarsky was giving a talk to an audience of about 100 people on Sunday evening at an event organised by a group called “Cyber Z Front”, whose name refers to the letter ‘Z’ that Russia has adopted as a symbol of the war. According to Russian news outlets, the explosion took place several minutes after a woman calling herself Nastya presented Tatarsky with a bust that she said she had made of him.

Russia’s state Investigative Committee said on Monday that Darya Trepova, a 26-year-old woman from St Petersburg, had been arrested. The interior ministry earlier placed her on its wanted list but gave no further information about her.

Tatarsky was the second high-profile war propagandist to be assassinated in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The first was Darya Dugina, the journalist daughter of a prominent ultra-nationalist figure, who was killed by a car bomb near Moscow last August.

The killing is an attack on the hardline pro-war camp in Russia, and sends a warning to other members of this group that they could be targeted anywhere. Tatarsky had survived extensive reporting trips on the war’s front lines but was killed hundreds of miles away, in the heart of Russia’s second city.

Tatarsky also had ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group fighting for Russia in Ukraine and also the former owner of the cafe. Prigozhin is a highly divisive figure who has frequently argued with the defence establishment, accusing it at times of starving his men of ammunition and denying them credit for advances.

No one has produced clear evidence, but some Russians have pointed the finger at Ukraine. Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-installed leader of the part of Ukraine’s Donetsk province that is occupied by Russia, said: “The Kyiv regime is a terrorist regime. It needs to be destroyed, there’s no other way to stop it.” Prigozhin, however, said he would not blame Kyiv.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, wrote on Twitter that it had only been a matter of time – “like the bursting of a ripe abscess” – before Russia became consumed by what he called domestic terrorism.

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