Notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout was freed by the Biden administration in exchange for wrongfully detained WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout was freed by the Biden administration in exchange for wrongfully detained WNBA star Brittney Griner. Viktor Bout’s life is the answer to the question, “How does someone earn the moniker “Merchant of Death?”
- Before his 2008 arrest for arms trafficking, Bout was the world’s premiere arms dealer for over two decades, with a client list that spanned Africa, Asia and South America and included governments, rebel groups, and warlords.
- After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bout harnessed his career in air transport to buy a series of military-grade cargo planes to transport weapons around the world under the guise of various shell companies.
- Bout allegedly armed both sides in Angola’s civil war and supplied weapons to warlords or dictators in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Syria.
- The United Nations named him as an associate of war criminal Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president who was convicted in 2012 of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone Civil War.
- The Russian arms dealer was convicted in 2011 on charges including conspiring to kill American citizens and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bout served less than half of his sentence before his release last week.
- Viktor Bout’s exploits were so legendary – or infamous – they inspired 2005 crime drama Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage as a fictionalized Bout. At one point in the mid-2000s, Bout was the second-most wanted man in the world behind only Osama bin Laden.
- Since his return to Russia, Bout has given several high-profile media interviews, including a long conversation with Maria Butina, another former guest of the American penal system. Butina illegally infiltrated conservative political circles through the National Rifle Association before her arrest in 2018 and deportation one year later.
- Bout told Russian state-owned TV Brittney Griner “wanted to shake my hand” as they passed each other during the prisoner exchange on the airport tarmac in Abu Dhabi. Bout said he wished her “good fortune and happiness.”
- In an interview, Bout backed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and said he kept a portrait of the Russian leader in his prison cell. “I am proud that I am a Russian person, and our president is Putin,” he said. “I know that we will win.”
- Bout was greeted with a hero’s welcome at an ultranationalist political rally after his return. Close Putin allies have already floated Bout as a candidate for parliament.
- Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russian mercenary outfit the Wagner Group, praised him: “Viktor Bout is a not a person, he is an example of firmness. Bout will certainly be good at the head of any existing party and any movement.”
- The New York Times covered the impact of “Viktor Bout’s bloody legacy” on Liberia and other African nations like Angola and Congo. Bout trafficked weapons to rebels across the continent and profited from the Liberian Civil War. One Liberian NGO director told the Times Bout was indirectly responsible for the murders of thousands of people.
- POLITICO published a behind-the-scenes accounting of how Bout was arrested in 2008. DEA agents apprehended the notorious arms dealer in Thailand. Bout was caught red-handed in a sting operation while trying to conclude an arms deal with DEA agents posing as Colombian rebels.
- CNN outlined in more detail Bout’s business ventures. At the peak of his career, he operated a fleet of cargo planes that shipped weapons to global hotspots like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. Bout maintained he was a “mere logistics provider.”
- National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declined to call Bout a terrorist during a White House press briefing earlier this week, according to Fox News. When asked if White House considers him a terrorist, Sullivan replied, “What we consider him to have been was a convicted criminal convicted of arms trafficking and other crimes.”
- The Washington Examiner reported Bout joined an ultranationalist political party, the Liberal Democratic Party upon his return to Russia. The timing of the announcement, his popularity in nationalist circles and his recent comments supporting Putin have led observers to speculate he may enter politics.
- Viktor Bout would not be the only wanted man in the Liberal Democratic Party should he decide to seek public office, The Wall Street Journal observed. One of the party’s deputies is Andrei Lugovoi, a man wanted in the United Kingdom for allegedly poisoning Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko’s tea with a fatal dose of radioactive polonium in 2006.
© Dominic Moore, 2022