A prominent Russian military blogger was killed in an explosion Sunday at a St. Petersburg cafe that wounded more than two dozen people and drew accusations of Kyiv complicity from the Kremlin.
The Interior Ministry and Russian media said war correspondent Vladlen Tatarsky was killed by an “explosive device” brought in by a patron. City police and emergency services rescued dozens of patrons after the blast. A video posted to Telegram showed an explosion on the first floor of a large building in St. Petersburg.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russian journalists are constantly experiencing threats from the Kyiv regime and its backers and are the subject of a “witch hunt” in Western media.
“He was dangerous for them, but boldly went to the end fulfilling his duty,” she said.
According to the Russian media outlet Fontanka, the cafe belongs to Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the controversial Russian mercenary company Wagner Group. The cafe had promoted Tatarsky as a “famous blogger and war correspondent” who was speaking on how to report from global hotspots.
Tatarsky has routinely justified Russia’s attack on Ukraine, once saying Russia “will defeat everyone, kill everyone, rob everyone who needs it.” Russian media said a woman presented him with a box containing a statuette that apparently exploded.
The reports made no mention of any claim of responsibility, and an investigation was underway.
Numerous explosions have occurred in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine more than 13 months ago. Ukraine authorities have sometimes hinted at involvement but generally do not claim responsibility.
►The Wagner Group, Russia’s most high-profile mercenary company, is equal in size to the militaries of Hungary or Slovakia, Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, said Sunday. Hungary’s military includes an estimated 40,000 troops.
►Russian forces launched five missiles, 22 airstrikes and more than 42 shelling attacks Sunday, the Ukrainian military reported.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday urged his Russian counterpart to immediately release two Americans, including a Wall Street Journal reporter detained last week on espionage charges.
Blinken expressed “grave concern” to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Kremlin’s detention of journalist Evan Gershkovich, according to a State Department statement. Blinken also made the request for Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate-security executive imprisoned in Russia since December 2018.
The U.S. government, the Americans’ families and their employers have described the charges as baseless.
Lavrov on Sunday dismissed Blinken’s requests, saying they were a matter for the Russian courts to decide. Lavrov also chastised Washington officials and Western mass media, accusing them of attempting to “stir up hysteria with an obvious aim of giving a political overtone” to the Gershkovich case.
“Lavrov stressed that Gershkovich had been detained red-handed when he was receiving secret data and was collecting data constituting a state secret acting under the guise of a journalist’s status,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Gershkovich, 31, in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg on Thursday. A Russian court ordered him held until May 29 pending an investigation. If convicted, he could face 20 years in a Russian prison.
“The fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his counterpart today is hugely reassuring to us,” Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Emma Tucker said Sunday on CBS News. “We know the U.S. government is taking this very seriously, right up to the top.”
The last time Wall Street Journal staff heard from Gershkovich was Wednesday, just before 4 p.m., when he had arrived at a steakhouse in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the media outlet says. It was the second trip to the Ural mountains in a month for the Russia correspondent.
Shortly before lunch, a colleague wrote him a text: “Hey buddy, good luck today.”
“Thanks brotha,” Gershkovich replied. A Russian social media post a short time later reported that security agents had taken into custody a diner from a Yekaterinburg steakhouse with his hood up.
Contributing: The Associated Press