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What We Know About the Bomb Attack on a Russian Pro-War Blogger

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The killing of Vladlen Tatarsky came at a volatile moment in Russia, and could herald a further crackdown on dissent. Here’s how the case has developed so far.

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Emergency workers standing around a taped-off area on a city street.

Emergency workers outside the cafe where the explosion took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sunday.Credit…Associated Press

The killing of a prominent Russian pro-war blogger on Sunday was one of the most significant attacks on a Kremlin supporter since President Vladimir V. Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The writer, known to Russian television viewers and hundreds of thousands of social-media followers as Vladlen Tatarsky, died in a bomb explosion in a St. Petersburg cafe. His death came at an unsettled time in Russia, with a growing number of Ukrainian raids and drone attacks beginning to bring the war home even as the government escalates its military rhetoric and cracks down ever more severely on dissent.

Combined, these developments are creating an atmosphere of growing volatility in the country.

Here’s what we know about the blogger, the bombing and its aftermath.

His real name was Maksim Fomin — Tatarsky was a pen name borrowed from the hero of a cult novel — and he was born in eastern Ukraine. According to his two volumes of autobiography, his career included time as a miner and a furniture maker, a bank robber and a pro-Russian separatist fighter.

But it was his social-media posts and videos that made him famous, calling for a total war that would eliminate Ukraine as a state, analyzing battles from near the front line — he defended the bombing of civilians — passing on commentary from Russian soldiers and raising funds to buy them more modern weaponry.

He often criticized Russia’s generals, highlighting the Kremlin’s willingness to tolerate dissent as long as it didn’t challenge the rationale behind the invasion or Mr. Putin’s decisions.

It was a line he walked skilfully enough to be invited not only on state television but to the Kremlin itself, where he watched a ceremony declaring the annexation of several Ukrainian provinces.

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Afterward, he recorded one of his most notorious statements: “We’ll conquer everyone, we’ll kill everyone, we’ll loot whoever we need to, and everything will be just as we like it.”

Mr. Tatarsky, 40, died while giving a talk about his wartime experiences to about a hundred people at an event organized by an ultranationalist group at a cafe in central St. Petersburg.

Vladlen Tatarsky in an undated photo from social media.Credit…Telegram, via Reuters

According to the police, the bomb that killed him, and injured dozens of other people, was concealed in a bust in his likeness, which a young woman handed to him during the talk.

Videos that appear to be taken at the event shortly before the explosion show Mr. Tatarsky joking about the statuette and asking the woman to join him onstage.

The Russian police say the woman was Daria Trepova, 26, born in St. Petersburg. Ms. Trepova was arrested on Monday morning, and charged with terrorism on Tuesday.

A video posted by the police shows a woman they identified as Ms. Trepova admitting that she had taken the statuette into the event after receiving it from another person, whom she did not name.

Ms. Trepova’s lawyer, Daniil Berman, declined to comment on Tuesday.

Two friends and a former colleague, all speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals, said Ms. Trepova was a former medical student, who later worked at a St. Petersburg vintage clothing shop.

Russian officials claim, without providing evidence, that Ms. Trepova was merely a cog in a terrorist network involving both Ukrainian intelligence and the main opposition group in Russia.

The Ukrainian government and representatives of Aleksei A. Navalny — the most prominent Russian opposition leader, who is in jail — have both denied involvement in the attack.

The government’s attempts to tie Russian opposition to the attack, which left about 30 others injured, have led some analysts to speculate that the Kremlin will use Mr. Tatarsky’s death to step up the crackdown on the remnants of antiwar dissent.

The two friends of Ms. Trepova described her as a politically conscious person who went to Mr. Navalny’s rallies and protested against the war — testimony corroborated by court records and online databases. But they said she was not a committed activist.

The cafe where Mr. Tatarsky died is itself a nationalist symbol. It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the mercenary group Wagner, which is fighting alongside the Russian military in Ukraine. Mr. Prigozhin, who began his career as a St. Petersburg caterer, said on Monday that he had outsourced the running of the venue to an ultranationalist group, Cyber Front Z.

The new managers rebranded the site, formerly Street Food Bar #1 Cafe, as Patriot Bar, started serving fast-food dishes with names such as “Enemy of NATO” and “Biden’s Envy,” and have hosted pro-war activists including Mr. Tatarsky.

“It seems like we have a small island of patriots in the city,” a guest at Mr. Tatarsky’s event, Marat Arnis, said in a video he recorded shortly before the explosion and posted on social media. “This makes me happy, because there are mostly enemies around me.”

Mourners placed roses at a makeshift memorial for Mr. Tatarsky near the cafe where the explosion took place, on Monday.Credit…Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press

Although Mr. Prigozhin did not have a formal relationship with Mr. Tatarsky, the indirect links between the two men exemplify Russia’s growing network of nationalist ideologues and propagandists, who have moved from society’s margins to the mainstream since the outbreak of the war.

These activists come from different socio-economic and ideological backgrounds, but are united by a desire to boost domestic support for the invasion, a key part of Mr. Putin’s plan to steel Russia for a long struggle against the West.

The assassination of Mr. Tatarsky was the most serious terrorist attack in the country since August, when a car bomb killed Daria Dugina, an outspoken backer of the war and the daughter of an influential, ultranationalist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin. She and Mr. Tatarsky are by far the most prominent war supporters to be killed inside Russia since the start of the invasion.

Mr. Tatarsky died in the heart of St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin’s hometown, and Ms. Dugina was killed just outside Moscow, the capital. Such attacks crack the veneer of normalcy that the Russian government has tried to maintain, particularly in major cities in European Russia since the start of the war. They also highlight how war supporters in Russia are vulnerable to attack even far away from the front lines.

Oleg Matsnev contributed research and Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.