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Russia detains woman in connection with bombing that killed military blogger

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Russia has formally charged a 26-year-old woman with terrorism in connection with a bombing over the weekend. It took place in a cafe in St. Petersburg. A prominent Russian military blogger was killed. Dozens others were injured. The terrorism charge comes as Russian officials have blamed Ukraine and domestic opposition in Russia for masterminding the blast. Both deny involvement. Well, joining us from Moscow to talk about the incident is NPR's Charles Maynes. Hey, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: OK, tell me more about the attack itself - like, what actually happened.

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, this explosion occurred on Sunday in a central St. Petersburg cafe bar, just as a military blogger named Maxim Fomin was preparing to give a public talk about covering the war in Ukraine while embedded with Russian forces. Now, according to law enforcement, Fomin was presented a small statuette - kind of a bust of himself - as a gift that exploded a few minutes later, ripping through the room of some 100 or so onlookers. Fomin is originally from the Donbas, but he's also among a group of military bloggers who've gained notoriety amid the war in Ukraine, in part because of his ultranationalist views, but also because of his blunt criticism of the defense ministry's top brass. He's really in this camp of voices that's been critical of the Russian military strategy and really pushed the Russian government to essentially hit Ukraine harder, particularly after watching Russia suffer repeated military setbacks last summer and fall.

KELLY: And I mentioned there has been an arrest. What do we know about the suspect?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, Russia's investigative committee said it had detained 26-year-old Darya Trepova, a former medical student, on terrorism charges. A Moscow court today ruled she'd be held until early June. You know, witness video in the moments before the blast appeared to show Trepova handing this trophy statuette - this bust - directly to Fomin before onlookers moments before it exploded. The authorities later released a partial video confession from Trepova, possibly under duress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARYA TREPOVA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here, Trepova says she handed the statuette that exploded to Fomin. But when asked by the agent who gave her the statue, she somewhat mysteriously says, can I tell you later? And the recording just ends there.

KELLY: Wow. That seems almost designed to invite the conspiracy theorists.

MAYNES: Yeah.

KELLY: What has been the theory advanced by authorities there in Russia?

MAYNES: Well, the investigative committee today said Trepova was operating under instructions from people in Ukraine, which aligns with what we've heard from other Russian officials, including in the Kremlin. Yet, Russia's anti-terrorism committee also claimed the attack was coordinated by Russia's opposition - specifically by supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Needless to say, both the authorities in Kyiv and Navalny's camp - they deny involvement. But just more generally, Russian officials and state media have accused the West of really cheering on the attack rather than expressing sympathy for the injured or for Fomin. Fomin, here, is being portrayed as a martyr - a hero. President Putin awarded him posthumous state honors, and he's being praised as a dogged reporter who gave his life trying to inform the Russian public about the war in Ukraine.

KELLY: Speaking of reporters, I do want to ask what news we have of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. He was detained on espionage charges - this was last week - while on assignment there in Russia. Do we know anything more than we did last week?

MAYNES: Well, Gershkovich's lawyers say they were able to finally visit with him in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison today, where they say he was in good health and expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support he's received. They continue to seek his immediate release and have formally appealed his ongoing detention, and The Wall Street Journal continues to work with the U.S. government - you know, the White House and State Department - to advocate for Gershkovich's release.

KELLY: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NELLY FURTADO'S "I'M LIKE A BIRD [INSTRUMENTAL]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.