Infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, released by the U.S. government last week in exchange for basketball player Brittney Griner, said on Saturday that he wholeheartedly supports Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and wishes he could join the fighting.
“To be honest, I couldn’t even understand why we did not do it earlier,” Bout said in an interview on the state-run Russia Today network (RT).
The interview was conducted by Maria Butina, who was herself incarcerated in the United States for espionage during the 2016 presidential campaign, and was elected to the Russian parliament after her release. Butina celebrated Bout’s release by President Joe Biden as a sign of Russia’s “strength” relative to the weak Biden administration.
“Why in 2014, you know, there were demonstrations in Kharkiv, people were carrying enormous tricolors and shouting, ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ in Donbas and Odesa, as well, you know!” Bout exclaimed.
“Yes, clearly the conditions were not right and we were not ready, but I would have supported it wholeheartedly,” he added.
In other words, Bout was saying ethnic Russians and Russian sympathizers living in Ukraine wanted Moscow to seize their hometowns as far back as 2014, the year Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
Russian forces are currently hammering civilian infrastructure targets in Odesa with missiles and Iranian-built drones, plunging the city into darkness, so there are not many residents waving tricolors and shouting “Russia, Russia, Russia” these days.
Bout said that if he had the “opportunity and necessary skills,” he would volunteer to join the Russian invasion force. Bout was a Soviet air force pilot before launching his lucrative career as the “Merchant of Death,” and at 55 he is younger than some of the recruits Putin is sending to Ukraine, so he would certainly seem to have the necessary skills to help the stalled invasion if he feels so inclined.
“The West believes that they did not finish us off in 1990, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate,” Bout told RT, harkening back to his days in the Soviet military. “They think that they can just destroy us again and divide Russia.”
For all of his bluster about signing up for action in Ukraine, Bout appears to be more interested in planning a political campaign. On Monday, he took a break from his victory lap through Russian media to join the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), an ardently pro-Kremlin ultranationalist party.
“I am sure that Viktor Bout, a strong-minded and courageous man, will take a worthy place. Welcome to our ranks!” LDPR chair Leonid Slutsky declared. Slutsky said Bout would soon be invited to attend party parliamentary meetings.
LDPR plans to take Bout on tour across Russia to shore up morale, touting him as an expert in “freedom, peace, and love for Russia” who “survived incredible pressure in an American prison and did not break,” as one local official put it.
Dismayed United States law enforcement agents told Politico on Monday that Bout might also return to the arms trade, reviving a career that included big-ticket sales to customers who were very interested in killing American soldiers and civilians.
Some of these sources worried that Bout could be more dangerous than ever, with his business network bolstered by contacts he made in prison and his reputation enhanced by the enthusiastic embrace of the Putin regime.
“The Merchant of Death is back in action, with more hatred against America and with greater motivation to fuel conflicts and support Russia in its outrageous and disastrous war with Ukraine,” warned former DEA supervisor Derek Maltz.
“Anyone who thinks he’s washed up and Putin is not going to push him back into service, it’s beyond me. People who believe that don’t understand how the real underworld works,” added Mike Braun, another former DEA chief.