Those heartening words came from one Viktor Bout, a former Soviet army officer, who was also a global arms dealer, and by some accounts, is the most dangerous man in the world. Recently the U.S. traded WNBA player Brittney Griner for Bout.
“We are together in this,” sniped Bout, adding the Americans “are my enemies also.”
Bout, caught in a sting operation, was poised to sell “100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 AK-47 rifles, and five tons of explosives to FARC, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.”
In 2008 though, the US Drug Enforcement Agency caught the so-called “Merchant of Death” in a sting operation in Thailand, where he thought he was negotiating selling weapons to the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. When told that the anti-aircraft missiles he was offering would be used to shoot down US pilots, he reportedly replied “we have the same enemy.”
Bout had been serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.
Did Moscow Get the Better Deal?
What American isn’t happy that Griner is now free? The exchange is a little glimmer of humanity amid Cold War 2.0. Yet there are those who question is this hostage exchange a bit dangerous, with Moscow getting the best of the deal?
“Sadly,” explains Mark Galeotti in Spectator, “it is more the latter.”
Despite Moscow trying to stop Bout’s extradition to the United States, in 2010 he was brought to the U.S., where he was tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Why Would Bout Remain Silent?
After all, today’s Russian intelligence community has inherited a strong tradition from the Soviet KGB: a commitment to getting its own back home, however long it takes. In part, this is to reassure agents working in the field, and in part to encourage those who are caught to endure in silence.
To this end, Moscow has been ceaseless in its efforts to repatriate Bout.
And then there is Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow, charged with espionage, and given a 16-year prison sentence.
A Canadian-born former US Marine with US, UK and Irish citizenship, a job as a corporate security director and a presence on Russian language social media website Vkontakte, Whelan may have genuinely been considered a spy by the Russians. Either way, they began suggesting he be swapped for Bout. But Washington wasn’t willing to deal.
Brittney Griner was detained on entering Russia when she was discovered with illegal cannabis-derived vape cartridges in her luggage. Griner didn’t deny the claim: she simply had not meant to bring illegal drugs with her.
… but the nine-year sentence she received was clearly at the extreme end of any sentencing scale.
… the drawn-out negotiation came to an end when the well-publicized swap took place.
Poor Whelan, with no strong lobby behind him, remains in prison camp IK-17 in Mordovia, while Griner is now free.
What makes Griner’s case special enough to warrant the designation “wrongfully detained” and the offer of a lopsided prison swap?
Read more about the Merchant of Death here.
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