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Murder at Café Putin: pro-war Russian propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky was assassinated | Russia’s cowardly act: the arrest of Evan Gershkovich

Murder at Café Putin


No, it’s not a new film based on an Agatha Christie novel, but it might well be. The recent assassination of a notorious Russian milblogger is rife with vicious intrigue.

The post Murder at Café Putin first appeared on The Brooklyn Radio – The News And Times.

Murder at Café Putin


Deadly political intrigue is rapidly building inside of a Russia that is increasingly burning out of control on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s watch. This past Sunday, in a St. Petersburg café purportedly owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, pro-war Russian propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky was assassinated when a statuette he was gifted exploded. Prigozhin, meanwhile, in his capacity as head of the Wagner Group, was 1,000 miles away from the scene of the crime, lifting a flag over the Central Administration building in Bakhmut, Ukraine, declaring victory.

bdeda35b8be77fac97379779e8fbb9f9.jpgTatarsky, whose real name is Maxim Fomin, who was killed in the April 2 bomb blast in a cafe, is seen among flowers at a makeshift memorial by the explosion site in Saint Petersburg on April 3, 2023.OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP

Like an Agatha Christie mystery novel, the Russian red herrings are dropping fast and furious as to who murdered Tatarsky and why. Prigozhin, because of his ownership of the café, is one suspect; and he certainly is an individual desiring, if not plotting, to be Putin’s king. For now, however, the Kremlin’s preferred prime suspects are imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) movement.

In support of that theory, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs identified Darya Trepova as a suspect and in a released interrogation video clip, the woman appears to admit bringing what was later estimated to be one pound of explosive TNT hidden in a statuette into Prigozhin’s café. Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee also claimed Trepova is an “active supporter” of FBK.

f91b1dfb856024bfee7725774083a27c.jpgDarya Trepova, charged with terrorism over the April 2 bomb blast in a cafe in Saint Petersburg that killed military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky (real name Maxim Fomin), is escorted inside the Basmanny district court for her remand hearing in Moscow on April 4, 2023.Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

In addition to multiple suspects, notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine could be one as well, there is no shortage of motives either. St. Petersburg, after all, is in the heart of what we previously described as Putin’s “Murder Inc.” One motive could be Putin sending a loud message to Prigozhin to back off. The Wagner Group leader recently hinted that he could be a candidate to take over once Putin is gone.

This comes on top of Prigozhin’s increasingly vitriolic war of words with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over his handling of the war. For now, there is a mutual need for each other between Putin and Prigozhin, especially in Bakhmut and Wagner Group operations in Africa. However, the love between “Putin’s chef” and Putin is long since gone. Short of killing Prigozhin, this may have been Putin’s Godfather-like way of putting a horse’s head in his bed as a final warning.

Putin is also continuing to feel the domestic heat over his faltering “special military operation” in Ukraine as Russian casualties mount. To that end, while Navalny thus far has been a useful domestic pawn to demonstrate to the Russian public that he is fully in control, Putin might have decided the opposition leader’s usefulness to him is coming to an end. If so, it is possible the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) orchestrated the hit on Tatarsky to set Navalny and other members of the FBK on murder charges, thereby eliminating threats to Putin if they result in death sentences.

Then there are the pro-war Russian military correspondents and milbloggers to consider – of which Tatarsky was one. Being “pro-war” in Russia is not necessarily the same as being “pro-Putin.” As Russian media expert and prolific Daily Beast writer Julia Davis noted last October, “Military correspondents and bloggers reportedly being investigated: Igor Strelkov (Girkin), Semyon Pegov (WarGonzo), Yuri Podolyaka, Vladlen Tatarsky, Sergey Mardan, Igor Dimitriev, Kristina Potupchik, as well as authors of Grey Zone and Rybar.”

Putin, via the FSB, may have just sent all of them a bloody message by killing Tatarsky to get fully onboard with his management of the war. Initially, as Killian Bayer Riga aptly speculated in DW, Putin’s use of Russian war bloggers likely were a “part of a political ploy” for the Russian president to politically deflect criticism of the Kremlin’s military setbacks in Ukraine onto an underperforming Russian Defense Ministry. Now, however, given Russia is facing an imminent Ukrainian spring counteroffensive in the Donbas and/or Crimea that could prove politically humiliating to Putin, Tatarsky’s assassination might have been a forewarning not to criticize the Russian president over any future setbacks.

There are two other possibilities. It could be a combination of one or two of the above, or it could well be Ukraine was behind it so as to foment a domestic divide inside of Russia. The brutal murder of close Putin ally Alexander Dugin’s daughter, Darya Dugina, in Moscow remains unsolved and Russian propagandists, including Margarita Simonyan, the head of state-controlled RT, were quick to blame Kyiv. Ukraine, in light of Russian war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere, as well as the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, certainly could have been motivated to take out the pro-Putin “ultranationalist.”

Whoever murdered Tatarsky is likely to remain as Winston Churchill famously said: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Putin, however, one way or the other, is central to the plot. If Christie were writing this as a modern-day crime novel, she would have likely entitled it “Murder at Café Putin.”

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the authors’ and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

 Copyright 2023. Mark C. Toth and Jonathan E. Sweet. All rights reserved.

Mark Toth is a retired economist and entrepreneur who has worked in banking, insurance, publishing, and global commerce. He is a former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis, and has lived in U.S. diplomatic and military communities around the world, including London, Tel Aviv, Augsburg, and Nagoya. Follow him on Twitter @MCTothSTL

Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel, served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. His background includes tours of duty with the 101st Airborne Division and the Intelligence and Security Command. He led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012-14, working with NATO partners in the Black Sea and Baltics. Follow him on Twitter @JESweet2022.  

NPR News: 04-05-2023 5AM ET

NPR News: 04-05-2023 5AM ET

Russia’s cowardly act


For years Evan Gershkovich shone a light on Russia’s oppressive descent. He has now become a victim of it himself. Last week the Wall Street Journal correspondent, formerly of the Moscow Times, was captured and detained by Russia’s security service on bogus espionage charges. He could face up to 20 years in prison. His arrest is a cowardly act: it marks Moscow’s first detention of a foreign journalist since its invasion of Ukraine and the first time it has put a US reporter behind bars on spying charges since the cold war. With Russian-language media already stifled, the detainment of a prominent foreign journalist is a chilling signal that Putin is now setting out to cow international news organisations.

Gershkovich was reporting extensively in Russia, telling the story of the country at a time of war with detail and insight. After he was captured, the Federal Security Service, the KGB’s successor agency, claimed that the reporter “was collecting information constituting a state secret about one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex” in the interests of the US government. The WSJ vehemently deny the allegations. Gershkovich was simply doing his job as a journalist. He was fully accredited by Russia’s foreign ministry, granting him an official green light to report in the country, but this too was ignored.

Russia had a track record of stifling the free press even before its invasion of Ukraine. But since the war began, the risks to reporters have risen significantly. In March 2022 it enacted laws imposing strict censorship on the conflict, essentially making most reporting on it a criminal act. Hundreds of Russian reporters have fled the country, and numerous independent Russian outlets have been shut down. Many news organisations have pulled their reporters from the country, especially if they are Russian nationals, out of concern for their safety. Gershkovich’s arrest has pressured other reporters to leave; the danger is that it will increasingly turn Russia into a black box at a time when the world needs to understand what’s happening there.

Every news organisation knows the dangers of sending reporters into repressive states and war zones. Yet it is the purpose of the profession to take calculated risks to unveil truths and hold authority to account. Autocrats are threatened by that. Accusing journalists of being malicious foreign actors is a well-worn strategy of authoritarian states, from Iran to China, to suppress dissent and foment fear. Putin is taking a leaf out of that playbook and turning Russia into a pariah state.

The Russian president does not want the truth to be told. His invasion of Ukraine has not gone to plan. Ordinary Russians are suffering, and hundreds of thousands have already fled the country. The FSB is confiscating the passports of senior officials in paranoia over possible defections too. Putin wants to control the narrative of his failing war. Indeed, the last article Gershkovich wrote before his arrest was about the crushing impact of the conflict and sanctions on the Russian economy. His capture also has the look of a hostage operation for some high-value trade down the line with the US.

The journalist’s arrest in Russia comes as free press is being squeezed around the world. An annual prison census from the Committee to Protect Journalists, an American advocacy group that promotes press freedom and safety, finds that over 360 reporters were jailed last year, a record high. His case highlights the vital work journalists do in an increasingly hostile world for reporters, as some even in liberal democracies tend to forget. Journalism is not a crime. Like all other journalists unlawfully held, Gershkovich must be released with haste.



“Reset“ or risky business?: EU leaders return to reopened China


French President Emmanuel Macron landed in China on Wednesday shortly ahead of EU chief Ursula von der Leyen as the two European leaders seek to smooth ties with a key economic partner while broaching thorny issues like Ukraine and trade risks.

Macron on his first trip to China since 2019, spoke to US President Joe Biden before the visit about trying to engage Chinese President Xi Jinping on hastening the end of the war in Ukraine started by Beijing’s close ally Russia.

Von der Leyen has not travelled to China since becoming European Commission president more than three years ago, with China’s strict pandemic controls forcing all diplomatic meetings online.

In that time, Europe’s relations with China soured, first due to a stalled investment pact in 2021 and then Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over Ukraine.

For Macron, facing embarrassing pension protests at home, the trip also offers a chance to land some economic wins as he travels with a 50-strong business delegation, including Airbus (AIR.PA), which is negotiating a big plane order, Alstom (ALSO.PA) and nuclear giant EDF (EDF.PA).

However, some analysts said ostentatious deal-signing would appear opportunistic at a time of growing distrust of China in the United States and its Western allies over issues ranging from Taiwan to its cosy ties with Moscow.

“It’s not the time to announce business deals or big new investments,” said Noah Barkin, an analyst with Rhodium Group. “It would essentially be a vote of confidence in the Chinese economy and send the message that France is not on board with the U.S. approach.”