Why is Viktor Bout a key name in the Brittney Griner negotiations? Who is Viktor Bout?
Over the last couple days Viktor Bout’s name has popped up in the news as he could play a vital role in the Brittney Griner negotiations.
Brittney Griner could be a step closer to returning to the United States after news broke yesterday that the United States government is working on a deal to bring the star basketball player home from a Russian jail. Although nothing has been confirmed the name Viktor Bout has popped up amid speculation of negotiations, and he could be a key figure in a potential prisoner swap.
Griner facing 10 years in prison
The former Baylor University stand out, Griner, has been locked in a Russian prison cell since February of this year. She was stopped at Sheremetyveo International Airport when security officers found a vaporizer and hash oil cartridges in her luggage.
Marijuana is illegal in Russia, and the severity of the punishment depends on the amount that is confiscated. Griner’s cartridges were enough for the Russian government to put the the 6′9″ center against the ropes, facing a 10 year prison sentence.
Griner went to court and pleaded guilty to the charges, after being advised that her best chance at a prisoner swap or some sort of negotiation between the US and the Russian government was a guilty plea.
US starting to open communication with Russia
The arrest came at a particularly touchy time, which is why the United States originally was standoffish to enter talks with Russia about bringing the basketball standout back home.
Since the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine there has been little to no contact between the two countries other than the sanctions Joe Biden has imposed on the Russian. The US initially backed away from talks with the Russians with the mindset that they would demand too much in return for Griner.
Over the last couple of days the name Viktor Bout has been appearing in headlines. Bout is a former Russian arms dealer who was arrested in 2008, and after years of extradition and trials he was sentenced to 25 years in an American court back in 2012.
Bout’s background as an air freighter
Bout served with the Soviet Armed Forces, but what he did with the Armed Forces is unclear. He speaks six languages and it’s believed he served at least in some capacity as a translator for the Soviets.
Once the Soviet Union crumbled, he began an air freight business, Air Cess. At the beginning his Antonov An-8 planes we’re providing services to the French government, the UN, French soldiers and African heads of state, while also bringing goods like chickpeas and flowers and other goods to Angola.
The nickname “Merchant of Death” was bestowed upon him when he began dealing arms in the mid 90′s. He ran his racket for more than a decade before he was infiltrated by Drug Enforcement Agents who were posing as Colombian FARC rebels looking to buy weapons.
Shortly after the fake deal he was arrested in connection to the arms while in Thailand. He was extradited to the U.S. and sentenced to 25 years back in 2012.
There is speculation that the 2005 movie Lord of War is based off of the life of Bout.
The Kremlin has been pushing for his release for years, and now it seems as though they might have the ammunition they need to work out a prisoner swap with the United States and Brittney Griner.