This Is the Russian on Offer in Exchange for Britney Griner

Viktor Bout, former Soviet military translator, could pass on intelligence, says pundit
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 28, 2022 8:50 AM CDT
This Is Russia's 'Merchant of Death' Sought in Prisoner Swap
Viktor Bout sits while waiting for his verdict at the detention room at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 11, 2009.   (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

The imprisoned Russian arms dealer the Biden administration has reportedly offered to swap for Russian detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan is known here as the "Merchant of Death." Viktor Bout—who reportedly inspired Nicolas Cage's arms dealer character in 2005's Lord of War—is serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois prison following his 2011 conviction of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization. The former Soviet military translator who speaks six languages was arrested in 2008 in Thailand after offering $20 million in weapons and explosives to US agents posing as Colombian rebels, per Fox News.

US prosecutors said the man who for years eluded international arrest warrants and asset freezes had armed some of the world's most violent conflicts since the 1990s, including in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, per CNN. Bout denied the charges, claiming he was only a businessman in "air transportation." Russia called him a political prisoner. But swapping him for Griner, a WNBA star who faces up to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling, and Whelan, a former US Marine serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, "would be a big mistake," former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler, who wrote a book about Russian President Vladimir Putin's tactics, tells Fox.

"Moscow wants him back because he possesses critical insights that he can share with [Russia's military intelligence service]," she says. "Having been in a US prison and interrogated by US officials, he knows what our intelligence requirements are and other information that is valuable for the Russians." CNN's Stephen Collinson argues he might also "be useful in procuring weapons for Russia to use in Ukraine." Even Whelan's brother tells the Washington Post that there are "many more names that might be palatable" to Russia. But Bout could be on his way home in five years regardless, his lawyer, Steve Zissou, tells the Post, noting he'll file a request for compassionate release. (Read more Viktor Bout stories.)

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