Does the Tatarsky killing offer clues to what happened to the Kerch Bridge?

It is still very early to draw any kind of proper conclusions about the killing of ‘turbo-patriot’ milblogger Vladlen Tatarsky (real name Maxim Fomin) on Sunday. The current account is that a woman of oppositionist sympathies called Daria Trepova was induced to bring along a bust containing a bomb to the meeting at which he was speaking. She stayed in the audience and was later arrested. By her account, she was set up – thinking she was in effect ‘auditioning’ for a job in Kyiv, she had been given the bust in Moscow and told to give it to Tatarsky.

There does seem to be video evidence supporting the claim that she gave him the bomb (the BBC did some good work on this) and the fact that she stayed in the audience suggests she didn’t know it was going to be detonated. Admittedly, she is a convenient culprit for the state given that she had gone to anti-Putin rallies organised by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, and it is conceivable that she was in fact ‘groomed’ for this purpose by the FSB or some other agency of the state. That does seem a little unnecessarily ornate a plot, but it can’t be ruled out.

But for the sake of argument – and with the inevitable caveats that this is a preliminary thought experiment rather than a straightforward assertion – let’s accept that she was set up and that the Ukrainian state (or elements within it) were responsible (as was likely to be the case with the assassination of Daria Dugina, too). In the process I am excluding the likelihood that this was the brainchild of some likely-mythical Russian anti-regime terrorists, despite some retrospective claims, as I have seen nothing approximating real evidence that they really exist, let alone have the resources and sophistication to carry out the kind of missions they have claimed without leaving any evidence for the authorities to uncover.

Anyway, this has a couple of interesting potential implications:

1. It helps explain what happened on the Kerch bridge on 6 October 2022, when it seems (as with everything around this war, there are alternative views) that a massive truck bomb blew three spans out of the bridge and started a fire on a passing train. One striking aspect of this is that it appears that the driver, one Makhir Yusubov, was still in the truck, which raised the question of whether this was a suicide bombing (which we haven’t seen before in this conflict) or a dupe, who didn’t realise what he was hauling? If the official line on Trepova’s story is true, then it does suggest that there are those in Ukraine – whether working on official sanction or not – perfectly willing to set up civilians in order to strike at Russia and the partisans of the war.

2. How many other Trepovas are there? Such an operation is complex (not least to produce the bust-bomb with remote trigger) and could easily have fallen apart if Trepova had been less credulous, unable to bring the bomb into the meeting, late, or whatever. This helps explain the ‘why Tatarsky?’ question – in other words, was he so special to deserve such an operation. He was certainly an odious individual whom Ukrainians had every reason to see dead, but it may well be that his was only one name on a list, and there are other ruthlessly imaginative assassination projects still in train, still being prepared or awaiting a suitably gullible patsy.

Of course, as I say, it is still too soon to know quite what is going on for sure…

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