CNN

Russia arrests anti-war activist following blast that killed hawkish blogger

Apr 4, 2023, 6:00 AM

Emergency service workers stand at the site of the blast at the St. Petersburg cafe on Sunday. Russ...

Emergency service workers stand at the site of the blast at the St. Petersburg cafe on Sunday. Russian authorities have, on Monday, detained a 26-year-old anti-war protester in connection with the explosion. Photo credit: AP

  (CNN) — Russian authorities have detained a 26-year-old anti-war protester, claiming she was involved in the blast that killed well-known military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky at a cafe in St. Petersburg on Sunday.

The country’s interior ministry added Daria Trepova to a wanted list following the explosion, and her arrest was announced on Telegram by the Investigative Committee of Russia shortly after that.

But Trepova’s husband, Dmitry Rylov, has told an independent Russian publication that he is convinced she was set up.

Meanwhile, a leading Russian politician has used the killing to call for “stringent measures” against the country’s informal opposition groups, following accusations from officials that organizations critical of the Kremlin were involved.

State media outlet TASS reported that “preliminarily, it was Trepova who handed Tatarsky a figurine with explosives” at the cafe. Russian media had reported suggestions that Tatarsky may have been killed by a device hidden in a statue presented to him by a woman. CNN is not able to independently verify the claims.

Tatarsky, a hawkish blogger who gained a high profile for his commentary on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was killed when a blast tore through the cafe where he was appearing as a guest of a pro-war group called Cyber Front Z.

Trepova was arrested in the early days of the conflict for demonstrating against it, TASS reported.

“Trepova participated in an unsanctioned rally on the day the special military operation began in Ukraine and was subjected to administrative arrest,” the article read, adding that court records confirmed that Trepova was arrested on March 9, 2022 and sentenced to 10 days in prison.

According to the TASS article, law enforcement officers conducted a search at Trepova’s residence in St. Petersburg on Sunday night, where her sister and mother were also questioned.

Trepova’s husband, Rylov, was a member of the Libertarian Party of Russia, the article said. Trepova, however, was not associated with the small political party. The Libertarian Party said in a statement Monday that Trepova, “has never been a member of our party. According to our records, she has never been a supporter … either.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary Wagner group that has taken a prominent role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Monday that he “gave” the St. Petersburg cafe where the explosion took place to the Cyber Front Z group.

Russia’s independent news outlet Fontanka reported that the cafe belongs to Prigozhin, on the basis of the Concord company’s ownership mentioned on the cafe’s receipt. Prigozhin is the founder and sole owner of Concord, according to public records.

When asked to confirm whether he was the owner of the cafe, Prigozhin didn’t deny it, in comments published Monday by his holding company Concord on its VK social media page. “Indeed, I gave the cafe to the patriotic movement Cyber Front Z, and they held various seminars there,” Prigozhin said.

Russia’s National Anti Terrorism Committee (NAC) meanwhile claimed Monday that the explosion involved agents of the Ukrainian special services and associates of the jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, allegations that were immediately treated with skepticism.

The Investigative Committee of Russia later claimed that “the planning and organization” of the killing was “carried out from the territory of Ukraine,” reclassifying the criminal case as a terrorist act.

Ivan Zhdanov, a long-time associate of Navalny, said the accusation that his Anti-Corruption Foundation was involved is an attempt to prolong Navalny’s jail term. “This is a rather idiotic situation. To refute the fact that we did it is idiocy. Obviously, we are not involved in this,” he said.

A senior politician with the governing United Russia party said Monday that the killing of Tatarsky shows that “stringent measures” must be taken against the informal opposition in Russia, despite Zhdanov’s rejection of any link.

“This is treason. All these people related to such organizations, should be prosecuted a traitors. This is a matter of honor to detain the heads of these organizations no matter where they are,” lawmaker Andrei Isaev said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov meanwhile repeated the claim during a news briefing that Ukraine may be behind the murder of Tatarsky, describing his killing as a “terrorist attack.”

Husband says Trepova was ‘set up’

US and Ukrainian officials have in the past warned that Russia has planned so-called “false flag” attacks inside Russian territory as a pretext for military escalation, including Russian claims ahead of last year’s full-scale invasion that Ukraine was sending “saboteurs” over the Russian border.

An independent Russian publication, The Insider, said it interviewed Trepova’s husband who believed his wife was framed.

“She was really just set up and used,” Rylov was quoted as saying. “Over the last day I contacted her, but I lost contact about 4-5 hours ago.”

“All I knew was that Daria needed, either for some task, or for some reason, to give some gift, I didn’t even know what,” he said, referring to the event at which the explosion took place.

“There is one very important point that she told me several times: she was sure that this thing would allow access to a person. That is, it was not something that should have exploded,” he said. “Dasha [Daria], in principle, is not the kind of person who could kill anyone.”

Russian state media Ria Novosti quoted one witness of Sunday’s blast 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.”

Who was Tatarsky?

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 took part in fighting alongside Russian forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, according to Vesti, citing public sources, when President Vladimir Putin’s fighters first invaded the country.

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

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Russia arrests anti-war activist following blast that killed hawkish blogger