Sitting in a Moscow studio as snow fell outside, looking relaxed in a blue blazer and maroon T-shirt, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout described his 14 years in a U.S. prison in his first interview since he was exchanged for American basketball player Brittney Griner, who had been held in a Russian prison colony following a drug conviction earlier this year.
“The whole world, basically, is a game,” he said, describing the lessons he says he learned from readings in Eastern philosophy. Putting that lesson into practice, Bout says, he would begin mornings by “laughing hysterically” in defiance of his fate.
A notorious arms dealer with alleged ties to Russian security services, Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States in 2010. A federal indictment charged him with conspiracy to kill Americans by selling weapons to Colombian guerrillas.
“There was nothing,” Bout said of those charges. He was also accused of selling weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as to oppressive African regimes. The 2005 film “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage, is a glamorized retelling of his notorious exploits.Bout went to trial in 2011 in New York City; convicted on terrorism charges, he was slated to remain in prison until 2029. In his interview after last week’s early release, he suggested that his federal defense attorney had tried to romantically seduce him, crudely simulating her appearance with hand gestures.
The interview aired on RT, a state-run Russian television network, and was conducted by Maria Butina, a Russian spy who was expelled from the United States in 2019 after spending more than a year behind bars.
In the interview, Bout described his time in solitary confinement as especially harrowing — “Yes, there was panic. Yes, it was very difficult” — but also complained about American prison food, lamenting his inability to access garlic or fresh herbs.Bout’s release was celebrated in Russia, which had asked for his extradition a decade ago. It was not until Griner’s arrest earlier this year that Bout’s own release became a real possibility — one that became increasingly likely after the American basketball star, whose luggage contained cannabis cartridges, was convicted on drug trafficking charges and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Even though Griner’s high profile probably protected her to some degree, conditions in Russian prisons and penal colonies have often been described as barbaric.
“I am proud that I am Russian, and that Putin is our president. I honestly don’t understand why we didn’t do this earlier,” he said of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
Bout also launched into a series of culture war attacks not dissimilar from those made by Biden’s critics on Fox News and elsewhere.
Обнародованы видеокадры обмена россиянина Виктора Бута на американку Бриттни Грайнер:https://t.co/hs1cFtHbOs
Видео: ТАСС pic.twitter.com/UZ209BYPRX
— ТАСС (@tass_agency) December 8, 2022