Exchange of prisoners. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi announce the success of their mediation between Washington and Moscow
Washington freed notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap deal with Moscow that freed American basketball player Brittney Griner.
A Russian arms dealer arrived in the Russian capital on Thursday after spending more than a decade in prison after being convicted by a US court in 2012 of conspiring to kill Americans, trafficking in anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organisation.
Bout, 55, is considered one of the most famous arms dealers of his time, and is accused of profiting from the arms trade and smuggling that fueled conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The Washington Post said in a report that the exchange deal represented a “major prize” for Russian officials, who had sought Bout’s release since his arrest in 2008, after he fell into the trap of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The newspaper shed light on what it sees as the secret behind Russia’s strong insistence on finding the arms dealer Bout, explaining that despite repeated claims that the charges against Bout are trumped up, Moscow’s desire to bring him back is not related to the details of the case, but to his connections and relationships with decision-making circles and the military. Russian intelligence, according to a number of officials and analysts.
In that context, Wolsky, the Clinton administration National Security Council official who led early efforts to get rid of Bout’s weapons network, emphasized to me that Bout had “important relationships with the Russian government.”
Reports indicate that Bout has a close relationship with Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister of Russia and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as they worked together in the Soviet military in Africa during the 1980s.
Bot denies any ties to the Russian military intelligence unit and also says he does not know Sechin.
The newspaper said his silence and denial of any connection to Russian agencies or officials could be aimed at Moscow sticking to him, noting that the arms dealer has refused to cooperate with US authorities, despite being in prison for more than a year. decade, in solitary confinement thousands of kilometers away from his country.
In this context, Russian journalist Andrei Soldatov said: “As far as I know, Bout remained calm in prison and did not reveal any information to the Americans.”
On the other hand, Simon Saradjian, a member of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, pointed out that Bout would not have run such a large arms smuggling business “without government protection.”
Saradjian explained that the Russian arms dealer has never spoken about his relations with the Russian government, and that is why the latter wants him back to keep quiet.
On the other hand, Russian security expert Mark Galeotti believes that Bout’s release could be a message from the authorities to all those who cooperate with them, stating that “the homeland will not forget you”.
Russia’s foreign ministry celebrated Bout’s release in a statement on Thursday.
And Russian political analyst at R Politic Group for political analysis, Tatyana Stanovaya, said last July that Putin was aiming, through this deal, for “gains deeper than political calculations.”
Bot said in interviews that he was born in Tajikistan in 1967 and studied languages at the Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, revealing that he was later sent to Angola to work as a translator in the Soviet Air Force.
Experts say military institutes in Russia were a major recruiting ground for military intelligence, and the US paper said Pot and Stein studied Portuguese and joined the Soviet army in Mozambique.
The bot is accused of taking advantage of the chaos that followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to buy quantities of weapons at low prices from uncontrolled military bases, before forming his own fleet of cargo planes to deliver his cargo around the world.
Other speakers for the newspaper linked Moscow’s insistence on Bout’s return and important information available to it, about the fate of Soviet weapons caches, as well as information about weapons depots in Ukraine, where he worked for more than a decade in transporting weapons between countries in the region.
On the other hand, some in Russia believe that Washington is exaggerating the actions attributed to him in order to make a scarecrow out of him and damage Moscow’s image, according to AFP.
Russian journalist Alexander Gasiuk wrote in a book he published in 2021 to tell the “true story” of the arms dealer, that “the myth that the United States invented about Bout is a shamefully self-evident story: the story of an evil Russian who illegally sells weapons and tries to harm America, but the good Americans put an end to it.”
According to the charges against him, he agreed to sell an arsenal of rifles and missiles to secret US agents, who claimed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and wanted to use those weapons to shoot down US helicopters supporting the Colombian military.