On December 8, the US and Russia exchanged prisoners for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer known as “The Merchant of Death,” ensuring Brittney Griner’s safe return. Bout had been in US custody since 2008, when the Drug Enforcement Administration had him in Thailand as part of a covert sting operation.
The idea of swapping Bout and Griner first surfaced in May, when he was serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison after being found guilty of planning to sell weapons worth tens of millions of dollars for use against Americans, according to US officials.
When it comes to the credentials of the arms dealer, Bout’s legendary status makes it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. He is thought to have been born in 1967 in Tajikistan, which was then part of the Soviet Union, yet nothing is known about his early years. Before serving as a translator for the Red Army in Angola, Bout received linguistic training at a Moscow military academy.
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Who Is Viktor Bout?
On January 13, 1967, Viktor Bout was born in Dushanbe, which was then a part of Soviet Tajikistan. He is proficient in a number of other tongues. In addition to that, he is a family man who is married. According to reports, Alla Bout is Viktor Bout’s wife. Elizaveta Viktorovna Bout is the only kid that this couple has together.
The Military Institute of Foreign Languages awarded him a diploma upon completion of his studies. In addition to this, the arms trader had a previous life in the Soviet Armed Forces, where he worked as a translator and rose to the rank of lieutenant in Angola.
In later years, Angola had a major role in Viktor’s enterprise. In the years following the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1989-1991, Bout was able to do something of great significance.
At that time, he took advantage of a sudden abundance of abandoned weaponry from the Soviet era to start a succession of fratricidal civil battles in a variety of different locations across Asia, Africa, and other continents.
The dealer in death was able to acquire a squadron of approximately sixty Soviet-era military aircraft that were stationed in the United Arab Emirates. As a consequence of this, he spread his goods all over the world at the same time that the enormous air fleet of the Soviet Union started to come apart.
In 2007, Viktor Bout published another book under the pen name “Merchant of Death: Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible.” This book is a biography.
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What Did Viktor Bout Do?
Brittney Griner, a star of women’s basketball who had been detained in Russia since February, was freed in exchange for the release of Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” by the US.
According to earlier rumours, Griner and US Marine veteran Paul Whelan could be exchanged. Whelan was given a 16-year prison term in Russia on espionage charges that the US government rejected as untrue and that he called a set-up. But only Griner was included in the final accord.
Bout, 55, was one of the most sought-after individuals in the world before his 2008 arrest on a number of counts relating to arms trafficking. His capacity to circumvent arms embargoes earned him the nicknames “the merchant of death” and “the sanctions breaker.” In Africa, Asia, and South America, Bout was supplying weaponry to rogue nations, rebel forces, and homicidal tyrants.
But Bout’s ancestry remained a mystery. According to most biographies, he was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, then-Soviet Tajikistan’s capital. Apparently, while he was a little lad, Bout attended the Dushanbe Esperanto. Later, he allegedly exploited his grasp of Persian, Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese to further his international arms business.
When Bout joined the Soviet army, he quickly advanced to the rank of lieutenant and worked as a military interpreter, including in Angola, which would eventually become the foundation of his company. Bout’s major break came after the fall of the Communist bloc in 1989-1991 when he took advantage of a sudden surplus of discarded Soviet-era weapons to ignite a string of fratricidal civil conflicts in Africa, Asia, and other places.
With the massive air fleet of the Soviet Union collapsing, Bout was able to acquire a squadron of roughly 60 ex-Soviet military aircraft located in the United Arab Emirates, enabling him to export his goods anywhere in the globe. The biography “Merchant of Death: Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible” by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, published in 2007, included information on a number of Bout’s shady business dealings.
From a base in the Gulf emirate of Sharjah, he combined his arms trafficking enterprise with an apparently innocent logistics company. By the turn of the millennium, Bout was among the most wanted persons in the world. He first caught the CIA’s notice when there were rumours of a shadowy Russian citizen dealing guns in Africa.
According to reports, Bout sent weaponry to a number of Congolese factions, the Philippine Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, the then-Liberian President and warlord Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for murder, rape, and terrorism. The end only came in 2008 when the US Drug Enforcement Administration was able to track Bout across several nations to a five-star hotel in Bangkok.
How Was Bout Arrested?
At the time of his arrest in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2008, Bout was thought to be worth about $6 billion. A breath-taking arsenal of weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns, and sniper rifles, 10 million rounds of ammunition, and five tonnes of plastic explosives, were being shipped when US authorities tricked him into leaving Russia for what he believed was a meeting about a business deal.
He had chats with informants for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s sting operation who were posing as members of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, before being brought into prison in a posh hotel in Bangkok. Washington had labelled the organization as a narco-terrorist organization.
In November 2010, he was brought to the US. A senior official in the British Foreign Office gave Bout the nickname “Merchant of Death.” In the US government’s indictment against Bout, the moniker was mentioned.
He was found guilty of terrorism in 2011. He was allegedly prepared to sell up to $20 million worth of armaments, including surface-to-air missiles that might be used to take out US helicopters. Bout yelled, “It’s a lie! ” When they said it during his 2012 sentencing.”
Shira A. Scheindlin, a former federal judge in New York City who sentenced Bout before going back to private practise, is one of many who wouldn’t be upset if Bout were released in a prisoner swap.
He’s served enough time for what he did in this instance, according to Scheindlin, who noted that Bout, a vegetarian and classical music enthusiast who is known to speak six languages, has spent more than 11 years behind bars in the US. I would respond “yes” if you asked me today if you thought a sentence of 10 years was appropriate, Scheindlin remarked.
The US sting operations “placed words in his mouth” so that he would declare he was aware Americans could die from weapons he sold in order to necessitate a terrorist enhancement that would impose a lengthy jail sentence, if not a life term, the retired judge said, adding that “he got a terrible deal.”
“Our government shouldn’t find trading him to be unacceptable. Release him, according to Scheindlin, wouldn’t be improper. But some don’t agree. Bout is a “high-value asset,” according to former US Defence Intelligence Agency official Rebekah Koffler, who spoke to Fox News.
Koffler claimed that Moscow wanted him back because he has important knowledge that he can impart to the GRU, his old organisation. He is aware of our intelligence needs and other information that is useful to the Russians because he was detained in a US prison and questioned by US authorities.
As much as one feels sympathy for Griner and (Paul) Whelan, it would be a mistake for the US to hand up Viktor Bout. The former US Marine was given a 16-year prison sentence in Russia in 2020 on espionage allegations that Washington claims are untrue.
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