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Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer, praises Putin and enjoys his celebrity status after the exchange with Griner


The 'Death Merchant' was traded for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week. She has since given high-level interviews to state media and has joined an ultranationalist party.

By Mithil Aggarwal -

NBC News

Viktor Bout has been greeted as a celebrity in Russia ever since he was released from US custody, embarking on a sort of victory tour in the wake of a prisoner exchange that not only secured his freedom but also delivered a rare victory for President Vladimir Putin.

The diplomatic breakthrough between Washington and the Kremlin resulted in Bout - a notorious arms dealer known as the

Death Merchant

- being traded for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week.

["I've been in prison for 10 months listening to the Russians, I want to talk."

This was Brittney Griner's return trip to the US]

Since then he has given high-level interviews to state media and on Monday appeared on stage at a political rally by joining an ultranationalist party.

Analysts say that although he is not a household name among the public, securing his return has symbolic value for the Russian leader and his allies.

Viktor Bout on a plane in Abu Dhabi before leaving for Russia on Thursday.FSB/Zuma Press

“It is proof that Russia does not abandon its people,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder and director of the political analysis company R, told NBC News, sister network of Noticias Telemundo. .politik.

"He has a lot of doors open before him," he said, adding that Putin considers Bout "someone who served the motherland."

[Biden ends the year with political victories after shielding equal marriage and the release of Griner]

Stanovaya added: “For Putin, personally, he is a hero.

So he must be received in Russia as a hero and he must have every opportunity to settle his life as he would like. 

Bout, an ex-Soviet soldier who became rich as an arms dealer, has always maintained his innocence. 

It gained fame allegedly supplying weapons for civil wars in South America, the Middle East, and Africa.

According to The Associated Press, his clients included Charles Taylor (Liberia), Moammar Gadhafi (Libya) and both sides of the Angolan civil war.

Russian representatives greeted Bout with a hug at Abu Dhabi airport on Thursday and state media later showed the arms dealer speaking to his family from a private jet.

Russian media also showed him getting off a plane in Moscow, where relatives who were waiting for him with flowers hugged him.

Viktor Bout arrives in Moscow after his release on Thursday.AFP - Getty Images

Since his return home, Bout has given a couple of interviews to Maria Butina on the state television channel RT.

Butina, who used her activism with the National Rifle Association to illegally infiltrate America's conservative political circles, was detained in 2018 but released and deported a year later to receive her own hero's welcome back home.

The two bonded over many things, including their time in US prisons, talking about the kinds of inmates they met and their support for Putin's "special military operation" in Ukraine.

[Brittney Griner's wife thanked those who worked for her release on the networks]

"If I had the opportunity and the necessary knowledge, of course I would volunteer," Bout told Butina in his second interview, broadcast on Saturday.

Asked if he had hung a portrait of Putin in his cell, he replied: “Yes, always.

Why not?

I am proud to be Russian and that our president is Putin."

Like Butina, who was elected to the State Duma last year, Bout spared no time in launching a potential political career.

On Monday he joined the right-wing populist pro-Kremlin Russian Liberal Democratic Party, founded by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The officer who accompanied Brittney Griner after she was released in Russia tells what she experienced that day

Dec 12, 202200:25

“I am sure that Viktor Bout - a strong-minded and courageous man - will occupy a worthy place in it.

Welcome to our ranks,” current party chairman Leonid Slutsky said, according to the state-run Tass news agency, as he took the stage alongside Bout, who was wearing a suit and sporting his trademark mustache.

Tass later quoted Bout as saying that he has not yet decided to run in the election.

"Putin will assure him that if he wants to continue serving the state, the fatherland, he will have every opportunity for it," Stanovaya said.

[The first images of Brittney Griner released after "tough" negotiations with the Russians]

Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 and found guilty of selling weapons to Colombian rebels that prosecutors say were intended to kill Americans.

Bout maintained his innocence and the Russian government has demanded his release ever since. 

The long-rumoured exchange has fueled debate over whether the Biden Administration should have caved to the Russian demands, given the disparity between the two cases and the situation of Paul Whelan, a corporate executive jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges The United States and his family have said they are unfounded.

Former President Donald Trump said Sunday that he had turned down a one-on-one trade for Whelan and Bout while in office, before Griner's arrest.

“I would not have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone who has killed untold numbers of people with his gun deals,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social social media platform. 

[Russia sentences US basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years in jail for cannabis possession]

But the swap may not only be a timely victory for the Kremlin at home, it also shows that productive talks with Russia are possible even as war rages in Ukraine, according to Stanovaya.

“It is proof that Americans can be pragmatic at times and it is an investment in future productive rational relationships,” he said.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-12-13

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