By Biodun Busari
A popular Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky was killed by a bomb blast in a St Petersburg café on Sunday.
The blast seemed to be the second assassination on Russian soil of a figure closely associated with the war in Ukraine, according to Reuters.
Russia’s state Investigative Committee said it had opened a murder investigation.
St Petersburg’s governor also disclosed that 25 people were wounded and 19 of them are receiving treatment in a hospital.
Reuters said it was not immediately known who was behind the killing.
However, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Sunday he would “not blame the Kyiv regime” for it.
But another leading Russian official accused Ukraine of the explosion without providing evidence, while a Ukrainian presidential adviser said “domestic terrorism” was breaking out in Russia.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry made no accusations of involvement in the attack but said silence in Western capitals exposed hypocrisy over expressions of concern for journalists.
Tatarsky, whose real name was Maxim Fomin, had more than 560,000 followers on Telegram and was one of the most prominent military bloggers who championed Russia’s war effort in Ukraine while often criticising the army’s top brass.
“We’ll defeat everyone, we’ll kill everyone, we’ll rob everyone we need to. Everything will be as we like it,” he was shown saying in a video last September at a Kremlin ceremony in which President Vladimir Putin claimed four partly occupied regions of Ukraine as Russian territory – a move rejected as illegal by most countries.
TASS news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying the bomb was hidden in a miniature statue that was handed to Tatarsky as he addressed a group of people in the cafe.
Mash, a Telegram channel with links to Russian law enforcement, posted a video showing Tatarsky, microphone in hand, being presented with a statuette of a helmeted soldier. It said the explosion happened minutes later.
It was also said that the cafe previously belonged to him, but he has since given it to “patriotic” activists who have been holding meetings there.
Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-installed leader of the part of Ukraine’s Donetsk province that is occupied by Russia, suggested publicly that Ukraine was to blame.
“He was killed vilely. Terrorists cannot do otherwise. The Kyiv regime is a terrorist regime. It needs to be destroyed, there’s no other way to stop it,” he said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the absence of reaction in Washington, London and Paris “speaks for itself given their ostensible concern for the well-being of journalists and freedom of expression.
“The reaction in Kyiv is striking where those who receive Western grants are in no way concealing their delight at what has happened,” she wrote on the ministry’s website.