What to know about Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer swapped for Brittney Griner
WNBA star Brittney Griner is free — in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout who has been known as the “Merchant of Death.”
Driving the news: The U.S. freed convicted Russian arms dealer Bout in an exchange for Griner that took place in the United Arab Emirates, according to a senior administration official.
- Griner had been incarcerated for nearly 10 months. She was arrested in February after Russian authorities said they found a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage, and later sentenced to nine years in prison and transferred to a penal colony.
Context: Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. for charges that included conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.
- A CBS News “60 Minutes” segment covering Bout’s extradition to the U.S. in 2010 labeled him “one of the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth.”
- He is thought to be the inspiration for the 2005 Nicholas Cage film “Lord of War.”
Flashback: The United Nations began investigating Bout, a former Soviet military officer, in the 1990s for trafficking military-grade weapons during conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.
- Bout was arrested in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation and convicted in a U.S. court in 2012 for supplying weapons to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill Americans.
- Russia called the charges “baseless and biased” and accused the U.S. of targeting Bout for political reasons.
- White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Thursday that "Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith for the release of Paul Whelan at this time."
Background: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in late July that the U.S. had made a "substantial proposal" to the Kremlin to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. Blinken said both had been "wrongfully detained."
- However, Russia is treating Whelan’s case differently due to charges of espionage, the senior administration official said Thursday.
- "While we have not yet succeeded in securing [Whelan's] release, we are not giving up," President Biden said in an address Thursday morning. "We remain in close touch with Paul's family."