Home News Who is Viktor Bout, “the merchant of death” returned to Russia by the United States?

Who is Viktor Bout, “the merchant of death” returned to Russia by the United States?

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This name embodied two decades during the international arms traffic born from the chaos of the fall of the USSR, and his career inspired Hollywood before the United States caught up with him and imprisoned him.

This Thursday, December 8, 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 cannabis business. Sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison, the charismatic mustache had been the subject of negotiations for several years between Moscow and Washington.

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1. Earliness

During one of his rare interviews, granted in 2003 to the “New York Times”, Viktor Bout claims to have entered into ” deals “ in 1992, at only 25 years old, by buying for 120,000 dollars three Antonov cargo planes which enabled him to deliver his cargoes throughout the world.

The American journalist Douglas Farah, co-author in 2007 of the investigative book “Merchant of Death”, describes Viktor Bout as “a Soviet officer who seized the opportunity presented by three factors born of the collapse of the Soviet Union: aircraft abandoned on runways between Moscow and kyiv […], huge stockpiles of arms guarded by unpaid soldiers, and the explosion in demand for arms”.

2. Jihadists

In his book, Douglas Farah assures that he, at the beginning of the American invasion in Iraq and with the approval of all, transported materials and men on behalf of important subcontractors of the American army. Accused by the United States of having armed international jihadist circles, he fiercely denies: “I have never delivered weapons and especially never made any deal with Al Qaeda”he told the BBC in 2009.

On occasion, recalled “Le Monde” in 2008, he even transports humanitarian aid for the United Nations, dreaming of creating an airline “like Virgin Atlantic”.

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3. Polyglot

The man speaks six languages, recalled in 2010 the “Guardian”. Translator and radio operator for the Soviet Air Force, he carried out numerous missions abroad at the end of the 1980s. He is suspected of having been a member of the military intelligence services.

For Viktor Bout’s wife, Alla, her husband is a “honest businessman and a great patriot, convicted of crimes he did not commit”she writes in the preface to the book by Russian journalist Alexandre Gassiouk, published in 2021 to tell “the real story” from “merchant of death”.

4. Nicholas Cage

He entered American popular culture in 2005, when the film “Lord of War” was released, inspired by his life, and in which Nicolas Cage plays arms trafficker Yuri Orlov, chased by Interpol. In Russia, some believe that Washington exaggerates its feats of arms to make a scarecrow and demonize Moscow.

“The myth created about Bout by the United States is indecently primitive: a bad Russian guy was illegally selling weapons and trying to harm America, but the good American guys put an end to it”writes the journalist Alexandre Gassiouk.

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5. Thailand

Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008, trapped by American 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.

Viktor Bout is accused of having developed an arms sales network aimed in particular at African countries under international embargo, such as Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2010, he was extradited from Thailand to the United States on a specially chartered American jet to stand trial.

Found guilty 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 intended to sell weapons to anyone, God knows the truth”he will launch before the statement of the verdict.

The Russian Foreign Ministry will then promise to do everything to obtain his return to Russia, calling the verdict a ” Politics “. Moscow has never ceased since denouncing his imprisonment, a sign, for some observers, that Viktor Bout was able to act with the at least tacit consent of Russian officials.

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