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Was Russian anti-war activist Daria Trepova framed over Vladlen Tatarsky killing in FSB hit?

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Within hours of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky being blown to pieces in a bombing at a cafe in St Petersburg, Russian authorities were quick to point the finger at 26-year-old anti-war activist Daria Trepova. 

Video does show Trepova walking into the Street Food No 1 cafe on Sunday and giving Tatarsky, whose real name is Maxim Fomin, a small statue of himself that was filled with explosives. 

And later, after she was arrested on suspicion of Tatarsky’s murder, Trepova appeared in a video with her hands chained to a radiator in which she admitted to delivering the explosive-laden statue that killed the blogger. But she had earlier insisted she was the victim of a ‘set up’ and had not known about the explosives. 

Russian authorities were quick to claim that Trepova had carried out the attack under the orders of Ukrainian special services and activists linked to jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny, while the Kremlin accused the Ukrainian government of being behind the bombing.

But in Russia’s haste to push the blame on Trepova and Ukrainian authorities, they ended up with six conflicting explanations as to what exactly happened and who was behind the attack. 

And military analysts have said Trepova might not be the cold-blooded assassin they would like us to believe; instead they suggest that Tatarsky was killed by Russia’s fearsome FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred.

Here, MailOnline takes a look at the various theories about Daria Trepova and who could have been behind Tatarsky’s assassination.

Within hours of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky being blown to pieces in a bombing at a cafe in St Petersburg, Russian authorities were quick to point the finger at 26-year-old anti-war activist Daria Trepova (pictured)

Within hours of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky being blown to pieces in a bombing at a cafe in St Petersburg, Russian authorities were quick to point the finger at 26-year-old anti-war activist Daria Trepova (pictured)

Daria Trepova

Vladlen Tatarsky, whose real name is Maxim Fomin, was killed in the explosion yesterday

Investigators have arrested Trepova (left) on suspicion of murdering Tatarsky (right) after she fled from the scene. Military analysts have said Trepova might not be the cold-blooded assassin they would like us to believe

Russian investigators pictured searching the cafe where Tatarsky and 32 others were wounded in a bomb attack

Russian investigators pictured searching the cafe where Tatarsky and 32 others were wounded in a bomb attack

Who is Daria Trepova and how did the bombing happen?

Daria Trepova was seen on CCTV walking into the Street Food No 1 cafe on Sunday holding a box containing a small statue laden with explosive and handing it to Tatarsky.

Video has since emerged showing Tatarsky engaging with Trepova, who was arrested yesterday on suspicion of his murder, and saying ‘What a handsome guy, is that me?’ moments before the explosion ripped through the Street Food No 1 cafe and killed him.

Further footage shows Tatarsky placing the statuette back into its packaging on a small table before it exploded in his face.

A video is believed to show Daria Trepova, 26, walking to the cafe carrying a box containing what may have been the statuette said to be filled with 450g of TNT

A video is believed to show Daria Trepova, 26, walking to the cafe carrying a box containing what may have been the statuette said to be filled with 450g of TNT 

Video has now emerged showing Tatarsky engaging with Trepova (pictured), who was arrested yesterday on suspicion of his murder, moments before the explosion ripped through the cafe and killed him

Video has now emerged showing Tatarsky engaging with Trepova (pictured), who was arrested yesterday on suspicion of his murder, moments before the explosion ripped through the cafe and killed him

A third video shows the 26-year-old former art student emerging minutes later outside the cafe

A third video shows the 26-year-old former art student emerging minutes later outside the cafe

A third video shows the 26-year-old former art student emerging minutes later outside the cafe alongside blood-soaked victims of the explosion, before quietly leaving the scene alone

The art graduate, who is an anti-war activist, was seen emerging minutes later outside the cafe alongside blood-soaked victims of the explosion, before quietly leaving the scene alone.

It later emerged that a Telegram channel linked to Trepova allegedly showed she had previously made statuettes from gypsum – a material that might prevent detection of explosives.

Little is known about Trepova but Russian authorities said she was a St. Petersburg resident who had been arrested last year and spend 10 days in custody after taking part in an anti-war rally on February 24, 2022 – the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

She is married to Dmitry Rylov – also in his 20s and a member of the so-called Russian Liberation Army. He has also been detained previously at anti-war rallies in Russia.

Daria Trepova’s ‘confession’ over bombing plot

Following Tatarsky’s murder, Russian authorities launched a manhunt for Trepova after they scoured through the CCTV footage. 

Trepova was arrested yesterday after more than 100 Russian officers raided at St Petersburg flat where she was staying.

She was later filmed with her hands chained to a radiator while being interrogated by Russian investigators over the assassination of Tatarsky. 

In the video, where Trepova kept looking away from the camera as she spoke, the anti-war activist admitted taking the statue to Tatarsky at the Street Food Bar No. 1 cafe before he was blown to pieces in Sunday’s blast.

Daria Trepova, 26, was filmed with her hands chained to a radiator while being interrogated by Russian investigators over the assassination of Tatarsky

Daria Trepova, 26, was filmed with her hands chained to a radiator while being interrogated by Russian investigators over the assassination of Tatarsky

Trepova told the Russian investigators she would tell them who gave her the explosive-laded statuette ‘later’. It is not clear why Trepova was not in a cell when being questioned.

But Trepova had earlier insisted that she had been ‘set up’ and ‘was being used’ after she was arrested on suspicion of Tatarksy’s murder. This claim was echoed by her husband, who insisted she had been ‘set up’.

Rylov said on Monday: ‘I believe that my wife was set up. I am in full confidence that she would never be able to do something like that on her own volition. 

‘Yes, with Daria we really do not support the war in Ukraine, but we believe that such actions are unacceptable. 

‘I am 100 per cent sure that she would never have agreed to such a thing if she had known.’

According to him, she ‘completely misunderstood the purpose’ of the statuette she gave to Tatarsky.

Suspect Daria Trepova, 26, with her partner Dmitry Rylov. Rylov, also in his 20s and a member of the so-called Russian Liberation Army, insisted that she had been 'set up'.

Suspect Daria Trepova, 26, with her partner Dmitry Rylov. Rylov, also in his 20s and a member of the so-called Russian Liberation Army, insisted that she had been ‘set up’.

Russia’s conflicting accounts of the explosion

Russian officials were quick to lay the blame on Trepova and Ukrainian authorities for the attack.

Russia’s top counterterrorism agency had claimed Trepova had known about the contents of the statue and had carried out the attack with the help of ‘Ukrainian special services’ and activists who are linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Ukrainian government may be behind Tatarsky’s murder, while the Russian Investigative Committee described the killing as a terrorist incident planned in Ukraine. 

Russian military bloggers also piled in and claimed the explosion was carried out by Ukrainian special services who were frustrated with Tatarsky’s support for Russia in the war.

Well-known Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky (pictured) was killed in a bomb blast in a cafe in St Petersburg on Sunday

Well-known Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky (pictured) was killed in a bomb blast in a cafe in St Petersburg on Sunday

Images from inside the cafe appear to show Trepova (pictured) handing Tatarsky a bust of himself before she began walking back to her seat

Images from inside the cafe appear to show Trepova (pictured) handing Tatarsky a bust of himself before she began walking back to her seat

And in one of the most bizarre claims, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, linked Tatarsky’s assassination to a dispute over a monastery in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

‘The range of various official responses is notably disjointed, with a lack of consensus among official Russian sources regarding Trepova’s involvement or association with either Ukrainian special services or Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund,’ military analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said.

They added: ‘Official Russian responses to [Tatarsky’s] death failed to generate a single narrative in the information space and led to disjointed responses from prominent pro-war voices.’ 

Was she framed by the FSB?

Despite Russia’s best efforts to say the art school graduate had planned the attack with the help of Ukraine – a claim strongly refuted by Kyiv – military analysts have cast doubt on whether Trepova was a cold-blooded assassin.  

Instead military analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) have suggested that Trepova had in fact been framed by Russia’s fearsome FSB agents. 

They suggest that Tatarsky was killed by the FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Vevgeny Prigozhin, who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred. 

Military analsysts suggest that Tatarsky was killed by the Russia's fearsome FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Vevgeny Prigozhin, who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred. Pictured: FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov

Military analsysts suggest that Tatarsky was killed by the Russia’s fearsome FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Vevgeny Prigozhin, who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred. Pictured: FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov

Military experts suggest that Tatarsky was killed by the FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Vevgeny Prigozhin (pictured with Putin), who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred

Military experts suggest that Tatarsky was killed by the FSB as a warning to Wagner Chief Vevgeny Prigozhin (pictured with Putin), who owned the cafe where the bombing occurred

‘[Tatarsky’s] assassination at Prigozhin’s bar is likely part of a larger pattern of escalating Russian internal conflicts involving Prigozhin and Wagner,’ the analysts said.

They pointed to how Tatarsky had attended an event earlier in the day on Sunday without incident. ‘So it appears that the attack was deliberately staged in a space owned by Prigozhin.’ 

The ISW also cast doubt on Russia’s claims that Ukraine had helped Trepova carry out the attack because of his pro-war blog. 

‘[Tatarsky] shared his ideology and activities with many other Russian milbloggers, however, and does not appear to have been a target worthy of special attention from Kyiv,’ the ISW’s military analysts said.

They added that Tatarsky could have instead been targeted by Putin’s FSB agents because he had routinely criticised the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Russian Foreign Ministry over their failures on the battlefields of Ukraine. 

‘[Tatarsky’s] assassination could be evidence that Putin’s tolerance toward these milbloggers, in general, is waning, but it could also have resulted instead from Fomin’s proximity to Prigozhin.’ 

Indeed, Advisor to Ukrainian Presidential Office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said yesterday that Tatarsky’s assassination was a result of political competition among Russian actors.

Putin is said to have turned against Prigozhin after he ‘failed to take the hint’ and kept on bragging that his forces were achieving more success than Russia’s army.

And the Wagner chief has risked further angering the Russian President by dismissing Moscow’s generals as ‘a bunch of clowns’. 

Prigozhin is increasingly seen as posing a rising threat to the Kremlin leader with his daily grandstanding and outspoken boasts.  

In January, he claimed his ragbag fighters have achieved heroics greater than Soviet soldiers at the Battle of Stalingrad, a key military turning point in the Second World War.

He has also openly mocked General Valery Gerasimov – the Russian commander-in-chief – who ordered that Russian soldiers should shave off their beards as part of a discipline drive in the armed forces.

Russia’s defence chiefs were ‘a bunch of clowns’ seeking the ‘glamorisation of the army’, raged Prigozhin, a Soviet-era jail inmate who came to fame arranging banquets and managing online troll factories for Putin.

‘Female war correspondents go into the absolute heat of [war],’ said Prigozhin.

‘Jail inmates fight better than units of the Guards. Servicemen with broken spines pass on their military experience at training camps, moving around like robots.

‘And a bunch of clowns try to teach fighters exhausted with hard military labour how many times they ought to shave — and what kind of perfume they must use to greet high commanders.’

What is the Wagner Group?

Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner is a mercenary group headed up by Russian oligarch and close Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.  

The group has for years acted as Putin’s personal band of enforcers, though it maintains connections with Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the GRU.

Founded in 2014 by a sinister former lieutenant colonel of Russia’s ‘Spetsnaz’ special forces, Dmitry Utkin, Wagner got straight to work following the annexation of Crimea, arming and organising separatist groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Wagner group insignia is pictured

Wagner group insignia is pictured

In the eight years between Crimea’s annexation and all-out war in Ukraine, Wagner mercs have been deployed abroad to covertly further Russian interests.

They were implicated in the Russian intervention in Syria where they helped to prop up the Assad regime, and went on to operate in countries throughout Africa including Mali, Central African Republic, Mozambique and Sudan.

Their goals differ in each region, but assignments almost invariably involve bolstering the military forces of the Kremlin’s preferred regimes by delivering weapons and training, and providing additional security services.

In return, Russia gains access to natural resources, investment opportunities and geopolitical influence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) is the chief financier of the Wagner group and is a close ally of Russian President Putin (right)

Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) is the chief financier of the Wagner group and is a close ally of Russian President Putin (right)

An integral part of most Wagner assignments is gaining control over the local population and elements hostile to the regime – something in which the mercenaries have proved particularly ruthless.

The mercenaries have garnered a reputation for violence and brutality, achieving their goals by any means necessary.

The Wagner group is now deployed in a fighting capacity alongside regular Russian army soldiers in Ukraine, and has been credited with achieving much of Moscow’s success on the frontlines.

In autumn 2022, Prigozhin embarked on a mass recruitment drive in Russian prisons, signing up hardened criminals to swell his ranks and deploy them en-masse in Ukraine on suicidal missions to gain ground by using ‘human wave’ tactics.

As of March 2023, the Wagner group is receiving less support from the Russian military, as Prigozhin has a poor relationship with Russian armed forces commander Valery Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

But his fighters are still heavily involved in combat operations across the frontlines in Ukraine.  

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