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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Russia names Ukrainian suspect in blast that killed pro-war blogger

By Robyn Dixon Washington Post

RIGA, Latvia – Russia’s Federal Security Service on Thursday accused a 35-year-old Ukrainian man of playing a central role in the bombing attack in St. Petersburg this month that killed a Russian nationalist military blogger, and said the assassination had been carried out on the orders of the Ukrainian security services.

The blogger, Maxim Fomin, also known as Vladlen Tatarsky, was killed when a bomb, hidden in a statuette that he had been given as a gift, exploded in a cafe where he was giving a talk to fans. The Federal Security Service or FSB identified the Ukrainian suspect as Yury Denisov, but the agency also claimed, without providing evidence, that Russian opposition figures abroad, associated with jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were involved in the attack. Navalny’s associates strongly rejected the allegation.

Denisov is the second person implicated by authorities in the April 2 attack. A 26-year-old Russian woman, Darya Trepova, was arrested and charged with terrorism for handing Fomin the statuette of a miner that exploded and killed him. The FSB said that Denisov delivered the statuette with concealed explosives to Trepova through an intermediary.

Denisov entered Russia from Latvia, according to the FSB, traveled to Moscow, bought a car on March 2 and rented an apartment close to Fomin’s place of residence, to find out more about his movements.

It offered no other details. The FSB released video of Denisov crossing a Russian border post, and an image of a man on a beach who appeared to be Denisov and a copy of what appeared to be his Ukrainian driving license. The agency said that Denisov had left Russia the day after the attack, flying to Armenia and then Turkey.

At the St. Petersburg cafe event, Trepova presented a statuette containing an explosive device to Fomin, an ex-combatant on Russia’s side in the Ukraine conflict and former bank robber who gained more than a half-million Telegram followers with his pro-war posts from occupied Ukraine, where he continually advocated a tougher approach to the war.

Russian officials have glorified the blogger since his death, and President Vladimir Putin awarded him a bravery medal.

The Interior Ministry published video of Trepova appearing highly anxious hours after her arrest the day after the bombing, where she stated that she had been arrested for “being at the place of killing of Vladlen Tatarsky.” In the video statement, likely to have been taken under duress, she admitted she carried the figurine into the cafe “which exploded,” and appeared willing to tell investigators who told her to give it to Fomin, but did not do so on camera.

“Can I tell you later?” she said. She is currently detained in Moscow awaiting trial.

Trepova’s husband, Dmitry Rylov, who lives in Georgia, told Russian media that Trepova told him after the attack that she believed the statuette contained a listening device, not a bomb.

Video of the cafe shortly before the blast, which has been widely posted on Russian Telegram channels, showed Fomin accepting the box containing the statuette from Trepova and urging her to sit at the front, near to him. She did so and was shown sitting a few yards from him as he opened the box, which then exploded.

Another video posted online showed her emerging from the cafe after the attack with others who were present when the blast occurred, and standing by the entrance appearing dazed.

The FSB claimed Trepova was “a follower of the Navalny ideology,” based on its claim that she, like thousands of Russians, registered for Navalny’s “Smart Voting” app, an opposition political tool that was designed to direct votes in Russian elections to the candidates most likely to defeat Putin’s United Russia party. The agency advanced no evidence for its claim of opposition involvement in Fomin’s killing.

The FSB said it and other agencies had “established that Ukrainian security services and their agents, including those among Russian opposition members hiding in foreign countries, organized the terrorist attack.”

It accused Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation of calling for “subversive activity in Russia for the purpose of changing the national constitutional system ‘by any means available.’”

Meanwhile, officials including deputy head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev have used the attack to smear the Russian political opposition, claiming that Navalny’s team was “at war with its own people, blowing up and killing,” and craved Russia’s defeat in Ukraine and “the death of our Motherland.”

Dismissing the FSB claim, Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said it was Putin who started a war that had killed hundreds of thousands of people “in which his soldiers are no different from the most brutal terrorists of ISIS.” Yet, Zhdanov said, the FSB accused opposition members of being the terrorists, because of their opposition to the regime.

“If you’re a terrorist to them, you’re their biggest enemy,” he said.

Zhdanov said the FSB’s terrorism accusation against the foundation followed a long line of actions against Navalny’s team, including arrests of many members, designations of the group and members as foreign agents and extremists, and jailing their relatives.

Zhdanov said it was clear that Trepova had no idea the statuette contained an explosive device.

“The FSB officers, as usual, are not distinguished by intelligence and ingenuity. Their version collapses with just one question. It is clear from the video that the girl did not know there was a bomb. How could she ‘carry out a terrorist attack on call’ without knowing there was a bomb?”

Zhdanov has left Russia, along with most opposition members and thousands of political activists. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is now based in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Navalny, who survived a 2020 poisoning attack, is serving sentencing totaling 11 and a half years on charges he says were trumped up.

On Tuesday, Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted that Navalny had been placed in a punishment cell for the 13th time on Monday, having lost more than 17 pounds in his most recent stint there. She expressed concern that prison authorities were trying to slowly kill him.

Yarmysh said an ambulance was called for him on Friday because of acute stomach pain. “We do not rule out that all this time in prison he could have been poisoned with something to make his health deteriorate slowly but steadily,” she posted.