The man who put a $1 million bounty on Putin believes the dictator’s inner circle will turn on him

Reuters
·3 min read

A Russian entrepreneur who offered a $1 million bounty for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin says he posted the reward because he wants to solidify Putin’s public image as a war criminal.

“I did it because I want to contribute to the change of perception of Putin from an unquestionable ruler to somebody who is perceived by Russians as a criminal, and an illegitimate president who is essentially a usurper of power,” Alex Konanykhim, CEO of software company TransparentBusiness, told Fortune.

Now, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Konanykhim says Putin’s allies will turn their backs on him.

“Oligarchs used to be strong supporters of Putin for one very simple reason: he was good for business,” Konanykhim said. “Now Putin is bad for business. Oligarchs, particularly, are trying to hide their assets. Their yachts are getting seized. They're trying to distance themselves from Putin to such a degree that everyone knows they’re no longer friends.”

On Wednesday, Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire who is known to be close to Putin, announced that he would sell his Chelsea soccer team and pledged to give the proceeds to victims of the Ukrainian war. It was a clear sign of the turning tides, according to Konanykhim.

“In less than a week, the [Russian] oligarchs are no longer friends with Putin, and Putin realizes it quite well because he's not stupid,” Konanykhim told Fortune.

Putin will be left alone as his fair weather friends abandon him, according to Konanykhim, who said it took a mere week of war for oligarchs to begin distancing themselves from the Russian president.

“Putin’s power is based on encouraging fear from other people. And if he starts looking like a loser, instead of an invincible and powerful leader, he will lose power very fast,” Konanykhim told Fortune.

It’s not just the Russian elite who are separating themselves from Putin, he is also facing criticism from the children of oligarchs and officials, who are protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine on social media.

Konanykhim said he truly hopes that Putin will be captured and that he would be happy to pay $1 million to an officer who would execute his constitutional duty and arrest Putin.

“It would give me a lot of pleasure for the chance to pay a reward to an officer for seizing Putin,” Konanykhim said. “I would be just delighted but I'm not naive. I realize that it's not as easy as creating a posting and two days later, somebody knocks on the door holding Putin with a bag on his head. I understand that.”

Konanykhim started his career by “building a bank from scratch” in Russia during communist rule and after moving to the U.S., he became an entrepreneur and the CEO of TransparentBusiness, as well as the executive producer of The Unicorn Hunters television show, which revolves around investment and business. He is comfortable expressing his dissent on social media because he currently lives in California, rather than in Russia, where Putin has eliminated free media by criminalizing dissent. Putin has an army of “trolls who police social media,” and look to punish users who create critical posts about the Russian government, according to Konanykhim.

“In Russia, people get jail sentences, not just for posting something political against the government, but even for ‘liking’ something on social media,” Konanykhim said. “People go to jail for just hitting the ‘like’ button. So yeah, California is much more friendly for self expression.”

Konanykhim claims that one of his relatives in Russia shared his Facebook post that disparaged Putin as a war criminal, and now risks arrest and prosecution.

“I told my family member to leave the country immediately because he could get such a long prison sentence for just a post,” Konanykhim said.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com