The Russian former arms dealer, Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death” is running for political office in Russia according to Fox News. The arms trader was captured in Thailand in 2008 and served a sentence in the United States until President Joe Biden freed him in December 2022 in a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner, a WNBA star. Mr. Bout, 56 years-old, joined the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is to the right of Putin’s United Russia party. Bout had served 10 years of his 25 year sentence.
The LDP, despite its name, is neither a haven for liberals or the democratically aligned. The party under its founding leader who passed away last year was noted for its ultranationalistic and antisemitic appeals to the Russian public. The height of the LDP’s prowess was back in 1993 when it managed to gain effectively 23 percent of the vote for the Russian parliament and was the largest single party. The LDP party is now only a minor party as of the 2021 parliamentary election.
Bout’s 2008 arrest in Thailand and conviction in 2012 in a US court was on charges of supplying arms to terrorist organizations and conspiracy to kill Americans. Russia at the time called these charges “baseless and biased” and accused the United States of going after the Tajik born arms dealer for political reasons. Bout was thought to be the inspiration behind Nicholas Cage’s 2005 film “The Lord of War.”
Brittney Griner, the American who he was swapped for, was sentenced to 9 years by a Russian court for illegal possession of vape cartridges containing cannabinoids. In Mr. Bout’s first interview upon being back in Russia, he described what it was like being in an American prison. He claimed that the prison system in the United States was created by the Nazis the US took in following Operation Paperclip. Bout also praised Putin in his interview.
Mike Braun, DEA chief of operations during Bout’s capture, said, “Bout was a master…There was no one who came close to his ability to move any type of armaments around the world and deliver them with absolutely precision, with air drops, landing on unimproved air strips, using old Soviet heavy cargo aircraft.”
Braun at the time of the arms dealer released predicted that Bout would go back to his old ways and traffic weapons once more. Braun said that “Anyone who thinks he’s washed up and [Russian President Vladimir] 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.”