It required a protracted extradition procedure (from Thailand) to even get Viktor Bout into US custody more than ten years ago. But just who is Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer who was swapped for Brittney Griner.
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The Biden administration presumably would have preferred for this particular incident to remain out of the public eye, but Russian state media has released video of it.
Brittney Griner, shown below wearing a red jacket, and Viktor Bout got to meet on the tarmac of an airport in the United Arab Emirates when both were en route to freedom, according to video provided by TASS on Thursday afternoon. Each was assigned to representatives from their respective nations, and the teams swiftly walked in opposite directions into a waiting aircraft.
Moscow seems to be celebrating a “victory” of sorts over its main rival and enemy, the United States, by releasing the video. Maria Butina, a well-known Russian politician and media figure who was in 2018 found guilty by the US and deported from the nation for working as an unregistered foreign agent, provided an example of this when she stated the following in an interview with state media:
Additionally, the following statement was released by the Russian Foreign Ministry: “Washington categorically refused to discuss including the Russian national in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work on rescuing our compatriot.”
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The Russian side released more video that showed some of the events leading up to Griner’s release. It also included Viktor Bout, who had served 11 years of a 25-year sentence, enjoying his first moments of freedom on aboard a Russian plane.
Despite the administration’s current denials, there is mounting evidence that suggests the White House had an opportunity to free former Marine Paul Whelon from a Russian prison.
Despite the fact that Griner explicitly admitted to breaking Russian law by carrying cannabis vape cartridges into the country after her detention in February, it appears that the “celebrity” effect and stronger PR surrounding petitions for her ultimately prevailed, and the government chose her.
She had received a severe 9-year prison term that would be served in a far-flung, infamous penal camp. But just now, she is going back home.
‘Lord of War’ Viktor Bout is described below with further details:
Update(1228ET): The Daily Mail describes it as a “deal soaked in blood” after the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia confirmed that Brittney Griner’s release for notorious convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout was facilitated by Saudi/UAE mediation efforts led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). Foreign ministry announcements from both countries confirmed the following, according to a key Mideast regional news agency, hours after the now-freed American and Russian strolled past each other on a UAE airport tarmac:
And based on the exchange’s specifics:
Many are questioning the timing of everything coming together just two days after the US government dropped the Khashoggi lawsuit against the Saudi leader midst uproar that the Biden administration released a “big catch” notorious Russian criminal and left Paul Whelan behind to wallow in a Russian penal colony.
In reviewing the timeline and series of potentially related events, it is ironic that Biden recently granted MbS immunity for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the same time that MbS was pushing for production cuts through OPEC (which benefited Putin and Russian interests). Now, the White House regains Griner (and perhaps it will quickly be “forgotten” how the Saudis just humiliated the US administration on oil output).
Update(8:50ET): Biden spent a significant amount of time justifying his administration from widespread allegations that Griner’s release was prioritized because of her prominence while other detained Americans were left behind during his White House announcement with Griner’s family in attendance.
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden stated, vowing to keep trying to free incarcerated US Marine veteran Paul Whelan. Marc Fogel, a 61-year-old teacher, is also imprisoned in Russia.
Following the White House declaration of Griner’s release, the Whelan family, naturally frustrated and “devastated” made the following statement:
Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner exchange at Abu Dhabi Airport on Thursday. In exchange, the Biden administration agreed to hand over infamous international arms dealer Viktor Bout. According to US officials speaking to CBS, the agreement was reached last Thursday, with the logistics being worked out since then.
Watch the video below:
“To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence,” CBS reports.
But the report underscores, “Notably, the Griner-for-Bout exchange leaves retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years. He was convicted on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false.”
When Russian state tv initially insinuated that the Kremlin would explore Bout’s return, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken implied the administration was actually considering it over the summer, it sparked a wave of controversy, particularly given Griner’s own recent public displays that some interpreted as “anti-US” most prominently refusing to stand for the national anthem and even remaining in the locker room while it was playing.
A prior commenter’s assessment of the contentious interaction for Bout was as follows:
Considering that it required a protracted extradition procedure (from Thailand) to even get Viktor Bout into US custody more than ten years ago, it is likely that the Department of Justice had been vehemently opposing his release.
After being found guilty in the Southern District of New York of conspiring to kill Americans and conspiring to provide material assistance to terrorists, he was incarcerated for 25 years prior to his recently announced release.
Already, there is growing resentment that Paul Whelan, as well as another American imprisoned in Russia, 61-year-old instructor Marc Fogel, for the general assumption that they have been left behind.