Brittney Griner, a prominent player for the WNBA who was imprisoned in Russia, was released when the Biden administration and the Kremlin reached an agreement on a prisoner swap early in December 2022.
Convicted, Infamous Arms Dealer
According to CNN, the US exchanged Griner for Viktor Bout, a convicted and infamous arms dealer who was being held in the US.
CNN and CBS stated that despite prior rumors to the contrary, Paul Whelan, another American held captive in Russia, was not a part of the exchange.
Bout’s involvement in the arms trade earned him the moniker “The Merchant of Death,” and his story served as the basis for investigative journalism and a 2005 film.
He seemed to be planning to enjoy his fame. Bout has embraced ultra-nationalist Russian ideology since his return to his own country and has openly supported President Vladimir Putin’s assault towards Ukraine.
According to earlier reports from Insider, Bout, who was born in Russia in 1967, began conducting large-scale international arms sales in the 1990s by employing cargo planes to move weapons and military hardware.
In Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan, he is said to have conducted business and fostered war.
Bout acquired the moniker “The Merchant of Death” after two American investigative journalists, Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, published a book with the same name that exposed his business operations.
His life story also served as the basis for the 2005 crime movie “Lord of War,” which featured Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, and Ethan Hawke and was largely based on Bout’s exploits.
In 2008, he was detained in Thailand, although not for the risky trafficking schemes that served as the basis for several films, documentaries, and books.
Bout was instead apprehended during a Drug Enforcement Administration undercover operation. The elusive arms dealer was persuaded to interact with alleged representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia by American officials (FARC).
Even knowing that the supplies may have been used to harm Americans, he volunteered to sell the rebels guns.
Soon after, Bout was detained in Bangkok and extradited to the US after a protracted court dispute and objections from the Russian government.
Bout was found guilty of planning to give “material assistance” to a terrorist group, offering to give them anti-aircraft missiles, and engaging in a plot to assassinate Americans and US officials over four years after his first detention.
Griner was held back in 2022 when airport staff discovered hashish oil in her suitcase. She was found guilty of drug smuggling after a trial in Russia, and she was given a 9-year jail term.
After Griner’s arrest, the US offered Bout to Russia in return for the two Americans being imprisoned, according to a CNN report from August.
One week after the offer, the Kremlin replied that they were open to talking about a prospective prisoner swap.
Michael Braun, a former D.E.A. chief of operations, wrote in a Foreign Policy column that releasing Bout would be a “grave threat” to national security and a “slap in the face” to law enforcement who risked their lives to arrest him, and he wasn’t the only one to criticize the prisoner swap in the US.
Nevertheless, an agreement to exchange Griner for Bout by the end of 2022 was able to be arranged by the US and Russia.