Who is Viktor Bout, the prisoner exchanged for Brittney Griner?

Who is Viktor Bout, the prisoner traded for Brittney Griner? < /p> UPDATE DAY

Viktor Bout, the merchant of death. This name embodied two decades of international arms trafficking born out of the chaos of the fall of the USSR, a career that inspired Hollywood before the United States caught up with him and locked him up in prison.

< p>Thursday, after long negotiations, Washington agreed to hand over to Moscow this 55-year-old man, arrested in 2008 during an American operation in Thailand, in exchange for basketball player Brittney Griner, detained in Russia for months for a case of cannabis.

Sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison, this charismatic mustache had been the subject of negotiations for years between Moscow and Washington.

Born, according to a United Nations report, in Dushanbe, capital of the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, Viktor Bout studied at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages ​​in Moscow, before entering the Air Force.  

As early as 1991 and the fall of the USSR, according to his accusers, he was able to take advantage of the post-Soviet chaos to acquire quantities of armaments at low cost from military bases delivered to themselves and from of officers looking for ways to get rich or simply to survive.

Another stroke of genius, he built his own fleet of cargo planes to deliver his cargo around the world.


The American journalist Douglas Farah, co-author in 2008 of the investigative book Merchant of Death, describes Viktor Bout as “a Soviet officer who knew how to seize the chance presented by three factors born out of the collapse of the Soviet Union: abandoned planes on runways between Moscow and kyiv […], huge stockpiles of weapons guarded by soldiers no one paid, and the explosion in the demand for arms”.

He entered American popular culture in 2005, when the film Lord of War was released, inspired by his life, and in which Nicholas Cage plays the trafficker weapons Yuri Orlov, chased by Interpol.

In Russia, some believe that Washington is exaggerating these feats of arms to make a bogeyman and demonize Moscow. 

“The myth created about Bout by the United States is indecently primitive: a Russian bad guy illegally sold weapons and tried to harm America, but the good American guys put an end to it”, writes the Russian journalist Alexandre Gassiouk in his book published in 2021 to tell “the real story” of the “merchant of death”.

“Honest Businessman”

For Mr. Bout's wife, Alla, her husband is an “honest businessman and a great patriot of his country, condemned for crimes he did not commit”, she wrote in the preface to Alexandre Gassiouk's book.

Former translator and radio operator for the Soviet Air Force, suspected by some of having been a member of the military intelligence services, Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008, framed by US agents.

According to the prosecution, he agreed to sell an arsenal of guns and missiles to these secret agents posing as guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who said they wanted to use these weapons to shoot down American helicopters helping the Colombian army.

In 2010, he will be extradited from Thailand in a jet specially chartered by the United States to stand trial.

Convicted in November 2011 of arms trafficking, he was sentenced in April 2012 in New York to 25 years in prison.

“I am not guilty, I never intended to kill anyone, I never had the 'intention to sell arms to anyone, God knows the truth,' he said before the verdict was announced.

The Russian Foreign Ministry then promised to do everything possible to obtain his return to Russia, describing the verdict as “political”.

Moscow has never ceased since to castigate his incarceration, a sign, for some observers. ers, that Mr. Bout was able to act with the at least tacit consent of Russian officials.