Why the Russian businessman who just put a $1m bounty on Putin’s head is taking a stand

Interview: Alex Konanykhin claims the Russian military is trying to sabotage the Ukraine invasion. He tells Andrew Buncombe why he’s taking a stand

Saturday 05 March 2022 16:22 GMT
<p>Alex Konanykhin says there is a ‘not insignificant’ chance someone will arrest Vladimir Putin and claim the $1m bounty</p>

Alex Konanykhin says there is a ‘not insignificant’ chance someone will arrest Vladimir Putin and claim the $1m bounty

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A Russian-American businessman who offered a $1m [£756,000] bounty for Vladimir Putin says the Russian leader must go on trial for war crimes, and that he would like to attend the hearings.

California-based businessman Alex Konanykhin triggered headlines and no small controversy when he offered the money on social media, along with a picture of Mr Putin and a caption that read: “Wanted: Dead or alive. Vladimir Putin for mass murder.”

He added: “I promise to pay $1,000,000 to the officer(s) who, complying with their constitutional duty, arrest(s) Putin as a war criminal under Russian and international laws.”

Facebook later took down the post, but Mr Konanykhin told The Independent he had not intended his words to encourage someone to go and kill Mr Putin. Rather, he insisted, he wanted the Russian leader to go on trial.

“I’d like to make it explicitly clear that my offer is for an officer who, in fulfilling his constitutional duties, can arrest him for war crimes committed under international laws,” he said.

“As much as millions of people, including me, would celebrate the news of his death, I’m not offering any bounty for his assassination. That would be illegal.”

He added: “And I also think it would be wrong, because he has to be brought to justice in front of a competent tribunal.”

Mr Konanykhin, 55, who moved to the US in 1992 with his family, is a former banker who now heads several technology companies. His company’s website claims he established Russia’s largest bank by the age of 25.

Reports suggest Mr Konanykhin’s time in the US, and his relationship with Russia, have not been simple. He twice went on trial over allegations he had broken the terms of his visa.

Reports said Russia had accused him of embezzling money, something he denied. He was eventually granted political asylum.

A map showing the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Mr Konanykhin said Mr Putin might have assumed the west was not going to stand up to him so forcefully, given what he said was a track record of permitting the Russian leader to get away with things.

“For years, Putin could do whatever he wanted to do. Or faced sanctions that were frankly laughable,” he said.

As it was, he said, Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky and the people of Ukraine had captured the imagination of the world.

Putin makes warning over any Ukraine no-fly zone

So too, he continued, had the protesters in Moscow and other cities, demonstrating against Mr Putin’s actions.

“Especially the younger generation, they don’t live inside that TV bubble created by the unstoppable propaganda machine,” he said. “They travel the world, they interact with friends in other countries, they read the news on the internet. They know the reality.”

He added “Unfortunately, Putin is not accountable to them. He is not an elected leader. He simply does what he needs for self-preservation. I believe that self-preservation is his primary motivation.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic foreign policy could be his downfall

Earlier this week, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague said an investigation would take place into possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The announcement came as Lithuania called on the ICC to open an investigation into actions committed by Russia and Belarus. Lithuania’s prime minister, Ingrida Simonyte, told The Washington Post: “What Putin is doing is just a murder and nothing else, and I hope he will be in The Hague.”

Mr Konanykhin said there was a “not insignificant” chance that someone around Mr Putin might arrest him. He said that the seemingly slow progress being made by Russian troops towards Kyiv suggested some in the military were trying to sabotage the invasion.

Asked if he thought the Russian leader had been told of the bounty, he said: “No way. You have seen those ridiculously long tables he sits at. Nobody is going to be bringing him bad news.”

Would Mr Konanykhin like to attend any war crimes proceedings against Mr Putin? “I would be delighted,” he said.

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