Russian nationalists look vulnerable after Vladlen Tatarksky’s kiling

Russian nationalists look vulnerable after Vladlen Tatarksky’s kiling

The death of Vladlen Tatarsky, one of Russia’s most vocal and prominent pro-war supporters, in an explosion at a cafe in St. Petersburg has dominated headlines in Russia and beyond. Analyst Tatiana Stanovaya told CNBC that Tatarsky’s death is likely to leave Russia’s “patriotic camp” exposed and potentially at risk. Some political and defense analysts note that Russia could potentially stand behind the killing, given the tensions growing among its political establishment and the blogosphere.

A portrait of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, whose real name is Maxim Fomin, who was killed in the April 2 bombing of a cafe, is seen among flowers at a makeshift memorial near the blast site in St. Petersburg on April 3, 2023.

Olga Maltseva Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s high-profile camp of nationalist pro-war commentators appears suddenly vulnerable after the death of one of the country’s most influential military bloggers, analysts say.

The death of Vladlen Tatarsky after an explosion in a cafe in St Petersburg on Sunday has dominated headlines in Russia and beyond. The blast killed Tatarsky and injured at least 30 others, authorities said, before arresting a woman on suspicion of involvement in what they described as a “high-profile murder”.

The death also sent shockwaves through Russian pro-war commentary, which has flourished since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago. The online community is now asking why Tatarsky was targeted and by whom.

Tatarsky was one of the most prominent and outspoken pro-war bloggers in Russia, with 572,000 followers on the popular messaging app Telegram. Unlike many others in Russia, however, Tatarsky – whose real name was Maxim Fomin – had the added distinction of having fought on the front lines in Ukraine with pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, where he was born in 1982.

However, Tatarsky had been critical of Russia’s military command and the Ministry of Defense, placing him in the same camp as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries fighting in eastern Ukraine. The two were related and were among a group of ultranationalist pro-war voices calling for more aggressive military tactics in Ukraine.

Despite criticizing some elements of Russia’s military strategy, Tatarsky appeared to be moving in high circles; in a video released last September he was seen inside the Kremlin for an event marking the illegal annexation of more Ukrainian territory. Tatarsky commented on camera: “We’ll beat them all, kill them all, rob them all as necessary. Just the way we like it.”

Tatarsky’s death is the second apparent assassination of a prominent Russian pro-war commentator on home soil.

Last August, Darya Dugina – the daughter of ultranationalist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine – was killed in a car bomb on the outskirts of Moscow. It is widely believed that her father was the intended target of the attack.

Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya told CNBC that Tatarsky’s death is likely to leave Russia’s “patriotic camp” — in which Dugina and Tatarsky were firmly entrenched before their deaths — feeling exposed and potentially at risk.

“They feel vulnerable, not only in the face of possible Ukrainian attacks, but also in the face of the Russian security services, which, in fact, fail to protect them from such possible incidents,” she told CNBC on Monday.

“The problem is that Russia is becoming much more vulnerable to such attacks, and the authorities do not really want to increase public attention to such incidents. [but] rather to minimize it”.

A police officer stands guard at the scene of the cafe explosion that killed Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, (real name Maxim Fomin) a day earlier in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 3, 2023.

Anton Vaganov | Reuters

Stanovaya, a senior fellow at Carnegie Russia’s Eurasia Center, added that ultranationalist military bloggers and commentators now want the Kremlin to redouble its aggression against Ukraine as a result of Tatarsky’s death.

“It’s so shocking how the authorities react, for them,” she said. “They believe the Kremlin should do more towards Ukraine — investigate, respond more aggressively — but they don’t see that. [being done] so it makes them feel vulnerable.”

Russian investigators reacted quickly after Tatarsky’s death and within hours had arrested a woman named Darya Trepova, known as an anti-war activist. The Interior Ministry released a video in which Trepova was seen being interrogated over the incident, although her husband Dmitry Rylov has since said he believes his wife was framed.

On Monday, the Kremlin described the bombing as a “terrorist act” and said it would tighten security ahead of its annual Victory Day military parade next month. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee accused Ukraine’s special services of playing a role in the plot to kill Tatarsky, alleging that Ukraine had cooperated with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a campaign group founded by jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and that then it was banned by Russia.

But political and defense analysts note that Russia could potentially be behind the killing, given growing tensions between its political establishment and the blogosphere over the country’s military tactics.

In recent months, that antagonism has become increasingly public with Prigozhin claiming the army’s refusal to supply ammunition to his mercenary fighters fighting in Donetsk could amount to “treason”.

A leading Russian military blogger was killed on April 2, 2023 in an explosion in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, the interior ministry said.

Olga Maltseva AFP | Getty Images

In fact, Tatarsky was killed in a bar owned by Prigozhin, and some analysts are questioning whether the bombing was intended as a sign that Putin’s tolerance for criticism of the military operation has come to an end.

“Fomin’s [Tatarsky’s] The killing may be evidence that Putin’s tolerance of these milbloggers is generally waning, but it may also have resulted from Fomin’s. [Tatarsky’s] closeness to Prigozhin,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted on Sunday.

The ISW said Tatarsky shared his ideology and activities with many other Russian milbloggers and so there was no reason for Kiev to have singled him out as a “target worthy of special attention”.

For Russia, however, “his assassination at Prigozhin’s bar is likely part of a larger pattern of escalating internal Russian conflicts involving Prigozhin and Wagner,” ISW said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak agreed that the explosion reflected internal political strife in Russia, noting that “spiders are eating each other in a jar” and that it was always a matter of time before domestic terrorism became ” an instrument of domestic policy”. fight.”

CNBC reached out to the Kremlin for a response to the comments, as well as the Ukrainian government following Moscow’s accusations that it was involved in Tatarsky’s death, and is awaiting answers.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said he was “not thinking about what’s happening in St. Petersburg or Moscow,” adding that “Russia should think about its cities. I’m thinking about our country and our cities.” .

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