- The United States and Russia are in talks to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout for prisoners Britney Greener and Paul Whelan.
- Boot was a well-known international arms dealer in the 1990s. In 2008, a stinging operation led to his arrest.
- A possible prisoner swap would mean Bout’s sentence was less than half.
The Biden administration and the Kremlin are reportedly discussing a prisoner swap to free WNBA star Britney Greenner and former Marine Paul Whelan, two Americans detained in Russia.
To secure their release, the US offered to trade back Viktor Bout, a convicted and notorious arms dealer held in various states, According to CNN.
Victor Bout had a long career as an international arms dealer
Bout, who was born in Russia in 1967, began trading arms internationally in the 1990s, using cargo planes to plan large-scale arms deals to transport weapons and military equipment, Insider previously reported.
He is said to have done business and fueled conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan, Insider reports.
Two American investigative journalists, Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, whose books of the same name detailed his business, earned Boot the nickname “Death Merchant.”
His story inspired Lord of War, a 2005 crime drama about an arms dealer loosely based on Boot’s exploits, starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto Starring Ethan Hawke.
Bout was arrested and jailed in Thailand in 2008 after he was caught in a spoofing operation in which he sold military weapons to American drug informants posing as FARC arms buyers.
Prosecutors said he was trying to make millions by selling weapons in the deal to the FARC, a militant group from Colombia that waged an insurgency in the country until 2016.
By 2010, he was finally extradited to the United States, where he was tried and convicted in a Manhattan court in 2011 on four counts of conspiracy to kill an American. Boot was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States.
When he was sentenced, Manhattan US Attorney Priet Bharara said“Victor Bout has been the number one enemy of international arms trafficking for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts in the world.”
Russia fought back after Bout was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2012, the Kremlin called his sentence “baseless and biased” CNN reports.
In 2013, a U.S. appeals court upheld Bout’s conviction and sentencing, rejecting the claim that he was the victim of a “retaliatory” prosecution, Reuters reported at the time.
Round surface as possible prisoner exchange target
After Whelan was first detained in 2020, his lawyers suggested that a prisoner-swap bout could be exchanged between Russia and the United States. Griner was also detained in 2022 after airport officials found cannabis oil in her luggage.
She was tried in a Russian court where she was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Ensuring the safe return of Greener and Whelan is a priority, says Vice President Kamala Harris One of the White House’s “highest priorities.”
CNN first reported that after Greener’s arrest, the United States offered Russia the bout in exchange for the two detained Americans. While the Biden administration has not publicly confirmed the details of their proposal, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the U.S. has made a “substantial proposal.”
A week later on Friday, the Kremlin responded to the offer, saying they were open to discussing a potential prisoner swap.
The reported prisoner swap deal has drawn some criticism, including from Michael Braun, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operations director who wrote in a foreign policy column Freeing Bout would pose a “serious threat” to national security and be a “slap in the face” to law enforcement who risked their lives to arrest him.
Former President Donald Trump also slammed the dealcalling Griner a “possibly spoiled man” who was “full of drugs”.