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Why The Death Of Russian Military Blogger Vladlen Tatarsky Matters

Vladlen Tatarsky

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According to The Bell, on Sunday evening, Russia’s best-known pro-war blogger, Vladlen Tatarsky, was killed in an IED explosion in a bar while delivering a speech in St. Petersburg. Official reports indicate that at least 30 people were also injured in the blast. The assassination of Tatarsky is expected to have greater repercussions than the murder of Daria Dugina last summer, who was the daughter of the nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin.

Russian authorities have already claimed that supporters of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny are to blame for the attack. Meanwhile, pro-war Telegram channels are filled with demands that the entirety of the liberal opposition be held accountable for Tatarsky’s assassination.

Tatarsky’s murder is reminiscent of a scene from a James Bond movie. While speaking at Street Food Bar No. 1, which is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who owns the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, a young woman approached Tatarsky to hand him a gift – a plaster bust of himself. After accepting the gift, the blogger invited the woman to sit with him, but witnesses report that the woman became nervous and took a seat quite a distance away. Five minutes later, the bust exploded, killing Tatarsky instantly and injuring 32 people.

Tatarsky’s real name is Maxim Fomin who was born and raised in Makiivka in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Fomin initially worked in a coal mine after finishing school, like his father and grandfather before him, before establishing a furniture retail business and opening several stores. The business was unsuccessful, however, and Fomin, driven by financial concerns, robbed a bank in 2011. Although incarcerated for the robbery, in 2014 the prison he was in was shelled, and Fomin escaped.

After escaping prison, amid a separatist uprising instigated by Russia, Fomin joined a rebel militia in the Donetsk People’s Republic. He later joined an intelligence unit in neighboring separatist Luhansk and wrote an autobiography while working under the codename “Professor”. Although jailed again later, Fomin was eventually pardoned by Alexander Zakharenko, who was the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic and who was also later assassinated in a 2018 bombing.

In 2019, Fomin moved to Moscow after the end of his military service and started a blog. He also used the pseudonym Vladlen Tatarsky to launch a Telegram channel. At the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tatarsky joined the Vostok Battalion and “reported on events” occurring on the frontline, including the attack on the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Tatarsky admitted to engaging in “military propaganda” in cooperation with the Telegram channel Reverse Side of the Medal – a channel associated with Wagner. Over time, Tatarsky’s Telegram channel acquired over 500,000 subscribers.

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In an interview, Tatarsky claimed that he wanted to bring about “the total destruction of the Ukrainian state” and to “cure [Ukrainians] of Russiaphobia.” In September 2022, the blogger was invited to the ceremonial signing of the Russian decree that annexed 4 occupied regions of Ukraine.

“We will defeat everyone, we will kill everyone, we will take everything we need, everything will be how we want it,” Tatarsky said in a video to his followers that he recorded in the halls of the Kremlin.

Initial Russian reports of the assassination were confusing and filled with incorrect information. A few hours after the assassination, anonymous sources within Russian security forces reported that a suspect had been taken into custody, however, overnight it was revealed that the information had been false.

The following morning at 11:00 a.m. the suspect, 26-year-old Daria Trepova, a well-known feminist activist in St. Petersburg was detained. Last year, she had been detained for 10 days after an anti-war protest and after being arrested, she claimed that she had been “used” but she did not say by whom. None of the Pro-Kremlin media have questioned Trepova’s explanation. Trepova was officially arrested on charges of “organizing a terrorist act,” and faces a minimum of 15 years in jail with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

As of Monday afternoon, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee had stated that the killing “was planned by Ukrainian secret services with the involvement of agents from [Navalny’s] FBK, of which Trepova is an active supporter.”

The comments from Russian security officials regarding Navalny’s supporters’ role in the assassination indicate that Russian authorities will most likely use the murder as a pretext to go after any of Nvalny’s remaining organization within Russia and also shows that authorities are handling this assassination differently than they did with Dugina’s killing. In the Dugina assassination, only Ukrainians were held accountable, whereas, in the Tatarsky murder, the Russian opposition is also assigned some of the blame, which makes it likely that a new set of crackdowns is coming within Russia.

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