Speed Reads

Ukraine War Spillover

Pro-war Russian military blogger killed in St. Petersburg cafe blast, reportedly by statue of himself

An explosion Sunday at a cafe in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, killed a prominent ultranationalist Russian military blogger as he was giving a public talk about his experience covering Russia's Ukraine invasion. The blogger, Maksim Fomin — an ardent proponent of the war better know as Vladlen Tatarsky — had accepted a bust of himself minutes before the explosion, witnesses told reporters and in videos posted online. 

At least 25 people were wounded in the explosion at Street Food Bar #1 Cafe, Russian official saids. A woman identifying herself as a sculptor named Nastya handed Tatarsky a small statue in his likeness shortly before the explosion, according to video posted on social media and witness accounts. One witness, Alisa Smotrova, said Nastya told Tatarsky that guards had told her to leave the bust at the door because of bomb fears, they had laughed about that, and Nastya then went to the door and brought the bust back to present to him. 

A spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry obliquely blamed the attack on Ukraine, an accusation echoed more overtly by some Russian lawmakers, fellow pro-war military bloggers, and prominent Russian commentators. Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the attack, and a Ukrainian presidential adviser suggested Russian infighting was behind the assassination. Tatarsky was the second prominent war supporter killed in an explosion inside Russia, after TV commentator Darya Dugina in August. Kyiv denied killing Dugina, though U.S. intelligence has its doubts.

In this case at least, Tatarsky "does not appear to have been a target worthy of special attention from Kyiv," the Institute for the Study of War think tank argued Sunday night. Tatarsky, like many military bloggers aligned with Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, was harshly critical of the Russian military's performance in Ukraine, though he also had close ties to the Kremlin. His assassination could be evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "tolerance toward these milbloggers, in general, is waning," ISW said, but it also "may have been intended as a warning to Prigozhin, who has been increasingly questioning core Kremlin talking points about the war in Ukraine."

Prigozhin, who reportedly owns Street Food Bar #1 Cafe, "oddly stated on April 2 that he would not 'blame the Kyiv regime'" for the deaths of Tatarsky or Dugina, "suggesting that Ukrainian agents were not in fact responsible," ISW said.

Tatarsky, 40, was born in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, joined a Russian-backed separatist militia after escaping from Ukrainian prison in 2014, and became a Russian citizen in 2021. He had 560,000 followers on Telegram and was a regular commentator on Russian state TV.