Car Bombing Injures Russian Nationalist Prilepin, State Media Reports
A car bombing on Saturday seriously wounded a prominent Russian nationalist and novelist, while killing his driver, state media reported, one of a series of internal attacks that are spreading a sense of disarray even as the country gears up to celebrate its most important annual military holiday.
The writer and Ukraine combat veteran, Zakhar Prilepin, was conscious with a broken leg and a concussion, in serious but not critical condition, according to state media reports. An explosive device was been planted under Mr. Prilepin’s Audi S.U.V. in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, Tass reported.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, called it a “terrorist bombing,” saying in a statement on the Telegram messaging app that Mr. Prilepin’s driver had been killed.
It was the second such attack within a week that authorities have referred to as a “terrorist” incident, and it comes as unease is growing among Russia’s military and political leadership, which is bracing for a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the war that has dragged on for 14 months. Other attacks have included two explosions on Wednesday over the Kremlin, which did little damage but carried heavy symbolic weight, plus blasts that have ignited oil storage facilities and derailed at least two trains in Russia.
The governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, Gleb Nikitin, wrote on Telegram that Mr. Prilepin suffered minor fractures and that there was “no threat to his health.” Two men with links to the Ukrainian special services have been detained in the region, according to REN-TV, a government-subsidized channel, and searches were being carried out in Moscow. The explosion was caused by a tank mine buried in the road, the report said.
The blast was the third to target a leading Russian nationalist figure in the last year. In April, a bombing at a St. Petersburg cafe killed a popular pro-war blogger known as Vladlen Tatarsky. And a car bombing last August killed the television commentator Daria Dugina, a hawk and the daughter of another famous Russian nationalist.
The Foreign Ministry blamed Ukraine for the attack, with backing from the United States and its European allies. Russia has said the same thing repeatedly after each such incident, including the previous two assassinations as well as the drone attack on the Kremlin, which Moscow called an effort to assassinate President Vladimir V. Putin.
Washington and Kyiv have denied any involvement, although U.S. intelligence agencies eventually concluded that parts of the Ukrainian government authorized that attack that killed Ms. Dugina.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal case into the Saturday attack and had sent investigators to the scene. A photograph shared by the committee on Telegram showed a white S.U.V. flipped upside down, with what appeared to be its front half blown off, next to a crater. A murky militant group that combines Ukrainians and Tartars from occupied Crimea claimed responsibility for the attack, as it has in the previous two targeted bombings, but again presented no evidence.
Mr. Prilepin was a polemical figure, an accomplished novelist who won praise for his writing style and an ardent nationalist who bragged about his own experience fighting, both recently and in the separatist conflict that Russia kindled in eastern Ukraine in 2014 after seizing Crimea. The driver who died was also identified as a veteran of the fighting.
In January, his political party, A Just Russia — For Truth, announced that Mr. Prilepin had signed up with Russia’s National Guard and been deployed to Ukraine. Last Thursday, Mr. Prilepin posted a picture of himself in military fatigues with a National Guard battalion that he said had spent four months on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Mr. Prilepin became one of Russia’s most famous contemporary writers with a gritty novel describing the life of young soldiers in the Chechen wars and went on to organize fighters in the separatist regions of Ukraine.
“I led a combat unit that killed a large number of people,” he boasted in a 2019 interview.
Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the S.B.U., opened criminal proceedings against Mr. Prilepin in 2017 on suspicion of financing and participating in terrorism. The following year, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture put him on a list of people deemed a threat to national security.
He has long advocated an imperialist foreign policy. In 2021, he was elected to Russia’s Parliament — a sign of the nationalists’ rising stature in President Putin’s system — but gave up his seat. Russian media speculated that Mr. Prilepin might harbor presidential ambitions and that he sought a more high-profile role than as one of the hundreds of members of Russia’s rubber-stamp State Duma.
After Mr. Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Mr. Prilepin’s aggressively imperialist views, once on the edge of Russia’s political mainstream, became the Kremlin’s guiding ideology. On Telegram, where Mr. Prilepin has more than 300,000 followers, he was a vocal cheerleader of what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation.”
After the car bombing in August that killed Ms. Dugina on her way home from a literary festival he hosted, Mr. Prilepin was quoted as saying that the West had “habituated” Ukraine to such actions.
Like Mr. Putin, Mr. Prilepin often bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union, saying that in the years afterward he felt like a stranger in his own country. His 2006 novel “Sankya” depicted the life of a disaffected gang leader who battled with the riot police.
In an introduction to the novel’s English edition in 2013, Aleksei Navalny, the prominent jailed opposition figure who early in his career was also an outspoken nationalist, praised the book for capturing the mood of a generation caught between Communism, which they no longer remembered, and the corrupt capitalism in which they had no future.
“In the Russian literary tradition, the ‘foresight of the writer’ is very important, and Prilepin’s foresight would make Tolstoy and Dostoevsky burn with envy,” Mr. Navalny wrote. He said that the writer had “predicted the patterns of development of radical political groups and the government’s strategy in combating them.”
In 2015, Mr. Prilepin said that he felt his books did not reach a wide enough audience among youth, so he wrote and sang an entire album to try to capture both the mood of 1940s Soviet war music and his feelings about the fighting in eastern Ukraine. “On the one hand it torments me, disturbs me, tears my heart, but on the other hand I see things there that fill me with joy and faith,” he told a news conference.
Mr. Prilepin also endorsed the massive military celebrations every year on May 9, Victory Day, marking the triumph of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany. Some cities have canceled celebrations this year over security concerns, but the major celebration in Moscow’s Red Square is due to go ahead.
“This is not simply a day in history for me but an event in the life of my family,” Mr. Prilepin said in an interview in 2015.
Mr. Prilepin said he could recall the scar tissue from war wounds on one grandfather’s shoulder and palm. Memorial days in Europe lack the same visceral feeling, he said. “The difference,” he said, “is that here in this country it affected everybody.”
Cassandra Vinograd, Milana Mazaeva and Anastasia Kuznietsova contributed reporting.
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