On Thursday, the United States handed over the imprisoned weapons dealer to Russia in exchange for the release of American basketball player Brittney Griner.
Before his arrest in 2008 on a number of counts related to arms trafficking, Bout, 55, had been one of the world’s wanted men, earning the nicknames “the merchant of death.”
Selling weapons to rogue regimes, rebel groups, and bloodthirsty warlords throughout Africa, Asia, and South America, Bout earned the reputation as the world’s most infamous arms dealer for almost two decades.
Lord of War, featuring Nicolas Cage as Vladimir Orlov, a weapons dealer whose character is based on Bout, was released in 2005 and was inspired by Bout’s life.
Profit Over Politics
Douglas Farah & Stephen Braun’s 2007 book “Merchant of Death: Weapons, Planes, and the Criminal Who Made War Possible” detailed various aspects of Bout’s shady trade. Reuters was unable to confirm the accuracy of its description.
From the Gulf city of Sharjah, he ran a complex weapons trafficking operation while concealing it as a legal logistics company, maintaining his innocence whenever questioned.
Still, by the beginning of the millennium, Bout was one of the greatest wanted men on the planet, having initially landed on the CIA’s the radar amid notifications of a mysterious Russian person trading arms in Africa.
Bout, however, had little in terms of clear philosophy, and he tended to put commerce before politics. His clientele included rebel organizations and militias from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Africa and Liberia.
According to the book “Merchant of Death,” he was a major arms dealer in Afghanistan, selling weapons to both the Islamist Taliban militants and the pro-Western Northern Alliance.
The report said that Bout provided weapons to the Philippine Islamist terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf, as well as to several Congolese groups and former Liberian Governor and dictator Charles Taylor, who currently serves a 50-year jail sentence for murder, rape, and terrorism.
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Russian officials have claimed that they were able to secure the release of Griner in exchange for Bout, which was confirmed by Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday.
‘She is secure. Now she’s in the air. The former vice president tweeted that his wife was returning home. A U.S. official confirmed that Griner and her wife, Cherelle, talked with the vice president, Kamala Harris, and Biden over the phone from the Oval Office.
It was reported by Moscow that Washington had declined to consider trading Griner for Bout. Russian foreign ministry statement: “Nevertheless, the Russian Republic kept actively working to rescue our compatriot.” The Russian national has been sent back to Russia.
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Relations With Spying?
Some analysts believe that Russian intelligence is involved with Bout due to the Russian government’s persistent interest in him and his expertise in the worldwide arms trade.
Bout has said in interviews that he studied at the Moscow Military School of Other Languages, which provides instruction for military intelligence personnel.
According to Mark Galeotti, a specialist on Russian security agencies at the Royal United Service Institute, a British think tank, “Bout was very probably a GRU an agent, or at least a GRU asset.”
For the Russian counterintelligence agencies, “his situation has become totemic,” as Galeotti put it. “They are eager to demonstrate that they do not leave their own people.”
The former weapons dealer reportedly kept a picture of Russian Leader Vladimir Putin in his jail cell and indicated he did not think Ukraine should exist as a state, as reported by journalist Christopher Miller, who has communicated with neo-Nazis imprisoned alongside Bout at U.S. Correctional Marion in Illinois.
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Bout was able to expand his global reach as a result of the Soviet Union’s collapse by purchasing a fleet of around 60 decommissioned Soviet military aircraft headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.