A well-known Russian military blogger was killed in an explosion at a cafe in St. Petersburg on Sunday, officials said, in what appeared to be an audacious attack on a high-profile pro-Kremlin figure.
Vladlen Tatarsky died when a blast tore through the cafe where he was appearing as a guest of a pro-war group called Cyber Front Z. Authorities said they were treating the case as suspected murder.
At least 30 people were injured in the blast, 24 of whom were taken to medical facilities, state media TASS reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Health.
Investigators were questioning everyone who was inside the cafe, state media reported. Photos of the scene showed extensive damage to the building in which the cafe was located.
Russia’s Investigative Committee for St. Petersburg said it had opened a murder investigation. Investigators and forensic specialists were on scene, the agency said, and that it was working to establish the circumstances surrounding the explosion. Russia’s Interior Ministry also confirmed Tatarsky was killed in the blast.
St. Petersburg’s prosecutor Viktor Melnik traveled to the scene to coordinate the actions of emergency services and law enforcement agencies, TASS reported.
Russian media reports suggested that Tatarsky may have been killed by a device hidden in a figurine presented to him by a woman before the blast. Russian state news media, citing law enforcement agencies and eyewitness accounts, said the woman was attending the event at which Tatarsky was speaking.
Ria Novosti quoted one witness as saying: “This woman sat at our table. I saw her from the back as she was turned away. When she gifted him the figurine, she went to sit in a different place by the window and forgot her phone at our table.”
The witness added: “The host at the stage took the figurine from the box and showcased it, Vladlen held it for a bit. They put it back and shortly after the explosion happened… I was running and my ears were blocked. There were many people with blood on them.”
The independent Telegram channel Astra Press quoted a witness as saying: “Everyone rushed to the exit when explosion happened. I myself saw the girl only until the moment of the explosion, when she gave a gift. She looked like an ordinary person.”
CNN is not able to independently verify the claims.
The blast occured during an event hosted by the “Cyber Front Z” movement, a pro-war Telegram society. “Dear friends and colleagues,” the group said in a post Sunday. “During our regular event in a cafe we rented, there was a terrorist attack. We took certain security measures, but, unfortunately, they were not enough. Our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.”
“Separate condolences to everyone who knew the wonderful war correspondent and our good friend Vladlen Tatarsky. Now we are cooperating with law enforcement agencies and we hope that all those responsible will be punished,” the post said.
Tatarsky supported the war in Ukraine and had gained popularity since the start of what Russia calls its “special military operation” by providing analysis and commentary.
Tatarsky, whose real name is Maxim Fomin, created his Telegram channel in 2019, naming it in honor of the protagonist of Victor Pelevin’s novel “Generation ‘P,’” according to Russian state news agency Vesti. He had since written several books.
Before that, in 2014, Tatarsky fought against Ukrainian nationalists with the Donbas resistance, according to Vesti, citing public sources.
Tatarsky had more than half a million followers on Telegram, and while he was aggressively pro-war, he had sometimes been critical of Russian setbacks in Ukraine.
In May last year, he told CNN that he was not criticizing the overall operation, rather “individual episodes,” and that he still believed Russia would achieve its goals in Ukraine.
Tatarsky gained prominence after attending the ceremony in the Kremlin that marked the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
Sunday’s blast has echoes of the car bombing that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of influential ultra-nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin in August 2022. Alexander Dugin is credited with being the architect, or “spiritual guide,” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Dugina and Tatarsky moved in the same circles, and they had been photographed multiple times together.
No evidence has yet been presented about who carried out the attack on Tatarsky, but Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed the finger at Ukraine, without citing evidence.
“Russian journalists are constantly experiencing threats of reprisal from the Kyiv regime and its inspirers, which are increasingly being implemented,” Zakharova said.
A Ukrainian official suggested the killing was due to in-fighting in Russia. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the President’s office, wrote on Twitter: “Spiders are eating each other in a jar. Question of when domestic terrorism would become an instrument of internal political fight was a matter of time.”
Zakharova paid tribute to Tatarskiy. “The professional activities of Vladlen Tatarskiy, his service to the Motherland aroused hatred among the Kyiv regime. He was dangerous for them, but boldly went to the end, doing his duty.” Zakharova said.