Russian police have arrested a woman suspected of delivering a bomb that killed a well-known military blogger who had fervently supported Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Vladlen Tatarsky, 40, was killed in an explosion on Sunday as he led a discussion at a cafe on the banks of the Neva River in the historic heart of St Petersburg.
More than 30 people were injured by the blast, and 10 of them remain in a serious condition, according to authorities.
Russian news reports said the bomb was hidden in a bust of the blogger that the suspect had given to him as a gift just before the explosion.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, the top state criminal investigation agency, said Darya Tryopova was arrested on suspicion of involvement in Mr Tatarsky’s killing.
Tryopova is a 26-year-old St Petersburg resident who had been previously detained for taking part in anti-war rallies.
The Interfax news agency initially reported her arrest late on Sunday, but later said that she was on the run while her mother and sister were summoned for questioning. The interior ministry had put Tryopova on the wanted list on Monday.
Witnesses said that the suspect asked questions and exchanged remarks with Mr Tatarsky during the discussion.
One witness, Alisa Smotrova, said the woman told Mr Tatarsky that she had made a bust of the blogger but that guards had asked her to leave it at the door, suspecting it could be a bomb.
They joked and laughed, and then she went to the door, grabbed the bust and presented it to Mr Tatarsky.
A video shows Mr Tatarsky making jokes about the bust and putting it on the table next to him just before the explosion.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a murder investigation.
No-one has publicly claimed responsibility, but military bloggers and patriotic commentators immediately blamed Ukraine for the attack and compared the bombing to last August’s assassination of nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina.
She was killed when a remotely controlled explosive device planted in her SUV blew up as she was driving on the outskirts of Moscow.
Russian authorities blamed Ukraine’s military intelligence for Ms Dugina’s death, but Kyiv denied any involvement.
Ms Dugina’s father, Alexander Dugin, a nationalist philosopher and political theorist who strongly supports the invasion of Ukraine, hailed Mr Tatarsky as an “immortal” hero who died to save the Russian people.
Reacting to Mr Tatarsky’s death, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said his activities “have won him the hatred of the Kyiv regime” and noted that he and other Russian military bloggers have long faced Ukrainian threats.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian owner of the Wagner Group military contractor spearheading Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine, said he owned the cafe and had handed it over to a patriotic group for meetings.
He said he doubts the Ukrainian authorities’ involvement in the bombing, saying the attack was likely launched by a “group of radicals” unrelated to the government in Kyiv.
A top Ukrainian government official cast the explosion that killed Tatarsky as part of internal turmoil.
“Spiders are eating each other in a jar,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote in English on Twitter late Sunday.
“Question of when domestic terrorism would become an instrument of internal political fight was a matter of time.”
Vladlen Tatarsky was the pen name for Maxim Fomin, who had accumulated more than 560,000 followers on his Telegram messaging app channel. He had filed regular reports from Ukraine.
Born in the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Mr Tatarsky worked as a coal miner before starting a furniture business. When he ran into financial difficulties, he robbed a bank and was sentenced to prison.
He fled from custody after a Russia-backed separatist rebellion engulfed the Donbas in 2014, weeks after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Mr Tatarsky joined separatist rebels and fought on the front line before turning to blogging.