– Ukraine city offers $10,000 bounty for every Russian agent captured (Guardian, April 25, 2014):
Dnepropetrovsk officials institute peace-through-cash initiative in attempt to corral ‘green men’ of Moscow
Money can’t buy happiness, but it just might be able to buy peace in eastern Ukraine. That’s the idea in Dnepropetrovsk, where the administration of a new oligarch governor is offering a $10,000 bounty for the capture of every “green man”, the term for the Russian agents Kiev claims are fomenting unrest in the east. Nearly a dozen suspects have already been turned in.
While intelligence agencies have yet to confirm their identities, the new administration’s overall approach seems to be working: unlike the neighbouring Donetsk region, where pro-Russian protesters have seized government buildings in at least 10 cities, Dnepropetrovsk remains staunchly pro-Ukrainian. And whereas separatists man dozens of checkpoints along Donetsk’s highways, Ukrainian national guard troops in fuchsia berets and pro-Kiev volunteers control about 50 checkpoints around Dnepropetrovsk.
The programme also offers $1,000 for every machine gun turned in and a grand prize of $200,000 for ending the pro-Russian occupation of a government building. Although he said it has been blown out of proportion by Russian media, deputy governor Boris Filatov, a property magnate, said he was already overseeing talks on the “liberation” of several administration buildings. The administration “has no budget” for the funds, many of them donated, that it spends on its struggle, he said.
The bounty-hunting programme “can be used as propaganda that we are instigating a civil war, or that scam artists are making money off it”, he said. “But really the fact is we are ready to pay for peace.”
The idea seems to be catching on: this week presidential candidate Sergei Tigipko, who has previously avoided criticising Russia’s aggressive policy in eastern Ukraine, said he supported the bounty on Russian agents and would be willing to contribute his own funds.
Although Filatov said he and others had contributed funding, most of the bounty money comes from Igor Kolomoisky, the third-richest man in Ukraine, whom Kiev appointed governor last month. Although the programme was fulfilling its goals, he said, the real reason Dnepropetrovsk had avoided the pro-Russian flare-ups engulfing Donetsk was “dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue”.
“We find the time to speak with all political forces representing the entire spectrum of political life,” he said.
The actual work of negotiating with would-be separatists falls to Filatov, who this month corralled nearly two dozen pro-Russia groups into signing a deal not to break the law or promote separatism. In exchange, they got offices in government buildings, media access and the right to check military bases to ensure no ultranationalists were training there. Everyone from neo-pagans to Soviet veterans signed on, he said.
“I can’t say we bought anyone out,” he said. “It was a mix of expressing ourselves correctly, threatening repercussions and making promises.”
“They won’t seize government buildings if they sit inside them,” he added.
As a result of the administration’s pre-emptive work, pro-Russian protests have dwindled in the regional capital, where so-called “titushki,” thugs supporting President Viktor Yanukovich, previously fought with pro-Kiev demonstrators during the Euromaidan protests that overthrew his regime. As recently as last month, protesters burned a Euromaidan tent and tried to raise a Russian flag over city hall, but now cars, billboards and balconies around the city feature Ukrainian flags.
Local journalist Andrei Bogatyrev, said having the richest man in Dnepropetrovsk in the seat of power was a stabilising factor, because he could influence all regional players, from mafia bosses to pro-Russian politicians. “Everyone understands that he’s a very serious figure, that it’s better not to poke that bear,” Bogatyrev said.
Another ingredient in the fight against pro-Russian unrest is the National Defence Headquarters, which has been given the first floor of the regional administration building to work out of. Although Filatov admitted these volunteers armed with hunting rifles and traumatic weapons were a de-facto “paramilitary organisation”, he said it was a way to channel the fervour of local patriots while fighting for the country’s territorial integrity.
“People in Dneptropetrovsk were ready to stop tanks with their bodies,” agreed the group’s commander, former army officer Yury Beryoza. “These people are ready to stand and defend their homeland.”
The National Defence Headquarters also co-operates with the ultranationalist group Right Sector, which is widely feared and hated by pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine. The Right Sector’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, who is originally from the region, recently moved his party headquarters to Dnepropetrovsk and created an 800-man Donbass battalion to help put down the pro-Russian protests next door.
For Filatov, the ultranationalists are just another group to manage. He said he dreamed of returning to the private sector, but first he wanted to save “our home and our business”. The fight against separatism is also a chance to be part of something greater. “We said we wanted to go down in history, and I think we have because Vladimir Putin had different plans for destabilising south-eastern Ukraine,” he said.