Russian business offers cash bounties to destroy Western tanks in Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian servicemen stand on their tanks near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 13, 2023. REUTERS/Vladyslav Smilianets/File Photo

(Reuters) - A Russian company said it will offer five million roubles ($72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture western-made tanks in Ukraine, after the Kremlin vowed Russian forces would wipe out any Western tanks shipped to Ukraine.

The United States, Germany and several other European countries are lining up to send Kyiv dozens of advanced combat tanks over the next few months to help boost Ukraine's military capacity as the war approaches the 12-month mark.

The decision has been criticised by the Kremlin as a dangerous escalation, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the tanks would "burn" on the frontlines.

Now a Russian company - Fores, a Urals-based firm which makes proppants for the energy industry - is offering cash payments to Russian servicemen who "capture or destroy" German-made Leopard 2 or U.S.-made Abrams tanks.

The company said it will pay five million roubles to the first Russian soldier to destroy one of the tanks, and 500,000 roubles ($7,200) for all subsequent attacks.

Echoing language used by Russian officials and pro-war state TV hosts, Fores said NATO was pumping Ukraine with an "unlimited" amount of arms and escalating the conflict. It also said it would pay a 15-million rouble ($215,000) bounty on Western-made fighter jets, should they ever be delivered to Ukraine.

The tanks have not yet been dispatched to Kyiv, and it could take several months before the bulk of the promised deliveries are sent.

Since the start of the conflict, Russia's defence ministry has claimed to have destroyed hundreds of pieces of Western weaponry.

Kyiv has previously dismissed those statements, highlighting for instance that Russia has claimed to have destroyed more U.S.-made HIMARS rocket launcher pads than were ever delivered to the country.

Previous deliveries of advanced Western arms, particularly HIMARS, have been credited with turning the tide of the 11-month war, helping Kyiv to secure a series of surprise victories and pushing back Russian forces from territory captured at the start of the invasion.

($1 - 69.57 roubles)

(Reporting by Jake Cordell; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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