The controversy over the one-sided prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia, with notorious “Merchant of Death” and “Lord of War” Viktor Bout traded for a wokester celebrity basketball player caught with a personal stash of CBD oil, is now dying down. The remaining question is, what’s next?
We can safely assume that Brittney Griner will either return to professional basketball or, more likely, enter the lucrative lecture circuit with book deals and television appearances. That’s a big “who cares”?
But arms-trafficker Viktor Bout is another story.
What is he going to do now that he is out and about in Russia, coming home to a hero’s welcome, fully embracing the unpopular Putin regime with expressions of admiration and gratitude, yet also pretty well now free to travel to all the world’s dodgy places?
Will he do the lecture circuit, too? It’s possible in Russia — two ruined spies, Maria Butina and Anna Chapman, both of whom were brought back home in more even prisoner exchanges, became television hosts in Russia, vigorously projecting the party line.
But they were both low-level blown intelligence operatives now of limited use to the Putinites, and both kind of liked the limelight.
Bout is something different.
Bout was accused and convicted of being the world’s most dangerous arms-trafficker and was mighty valuable to the Putin regime.
He was believed to be a former Russian intelligence officer (GRU?) who got caught without support in Africa in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and got into the arms trade to survive. Putin himself was in that situation and returned to St. Petersburg to go into politics shortly after the Wall fell in East Germany, and from St. Petersburg, he went to Moscow in the years before he became Russia’s president. Bout chose to stay in the arms trade, serving as a guy who could evade international arms embargos and get weapons to whoever would buy them, making friends with some of Africa’s most barbaric tin-pot dictators, before branching out to the Balkans and the Middle East and making a lot of money, something that Putin took another route to do. A list of Bout’s transactions are here in this Wikipedia page.
Arms-trader Bout had magnificent Russian intelligence connections well beyond his old job, too; his father-in-law, Zuiguin, was reportedly a deputy chairman of the KGB. So as Russia got its footing after the wall fell, Bout seems to have become useful to them as an arms-trader, and they of course were useful to him, being available to get him out of any jam until he was picked up by the DEA trying to sell rockets to agents disguised as Colombia’s FARC Marxist narco-terrorists in Thailand in 2008.
And how did Bout get hold of the arms to start with?
Well, he had the right connections in the country of his ethnicity, which, what a coincidence, was Ukraine.
In that post-meltdown shambles, in the days when the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, he had relatives with ties to Ukraine’s arms supplies — planes, tanks, rockets, rifles — and was able to get hold of at least some of these arms and ship them to the wars of Africa in the 1990s.
Eventually, the Russians found him useful, and that would explain why Putin drove such a hard bargain for Joe Biden’s quest to get basketball player Brittany Griner out of the Gulag.
Former Green Beret Pat Lang has an interesting analysis on his blog about why Putin wanted Bout back so badly, dating from July.
Bout is back in Russia now, and loudly singing Putin’s praises, which is to say, he is currying favor with the regime that expended so much to get him out. He’s not afraid of reprisals; he’s no Olympic athlete being sent home for being some kind of miscreant and fearing the consequences. He’s happy as a clam now to be back among his friends, sponsors, patrons, and godfathers.
So it’s more than likely that he may be getting ready to play the same games he played earlier — arms sales, and Russia’s bidding, in exchange for a pretty penny.
According to the estimable journalist Elaine Shannon, whose books are awesome reading, writing in Politico magazine:
Several are convinced he’ll soon reemerge as a player, helping Russia sell and acquire weapons in violation of international sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine and earlier human rights violations.
“The Merchant of Death is back in action, with more hatred against America and with greater motivation to fuel conflicts and support Russia in its outrageous and disastrous war with Ukraine,” says Derek Maltz, who as head of the DEA Special Operations Division oversaw the undercover investigation of Bout.
[Former DEA chief Mike] Braun disagrees with those who argue that Bout is a has-been, that his network has frayed and his business model collapsed. If anything, Braun says, Bout has probably made valuable contacts over the nearly dozen years he has spent in the U.S. prison system.
“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,” Braun said. “People who believe that don’t understand how the real underworld works.”
What’s scary is that Bout returns now to a different world.
Ukraine is now an even bigger shambles than it was when the Soviet Union fell, and arms are absolutely all over the place, ready for resale. Huge amounts of money and grift make it easier to get away with such deeds because a lot of people are doing it.
What’s scarier still is that he still has ties to Afghanistan, where Joe Biden irresponsibly left an even bigger stash of weapons…and based on U.S. and E.U. sanctions, the Taliban needs money.
Bout claims he had sold arms only to the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, which once fought the Taliban, but U.S. intelligence and others think he may have sold to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and just not be saying. If it’s true, then he likely still has some good business ties with that bunch, and they’ve got some fresh merchandise for him to dispose of for them. Even if it’s not true, he could likely make a deal with them.
Both war zones are absolutely tailor-made for Bout’s “services,” and now Joe Biden cannot stop him.
He’ll sell these arms lying around to anyone — Mexico’s cartels, flush with cash from crossing fees from illegals taking advantage of Joe Biden’s open borders might be one buyer candidate. There are many other potential examples, too, particularly in Venezuela, or Yemen, or Burma, basically any hellhole.
But if just the Mexico trouble happens, and arms sales from Afghanistan or Ukraine go to the cartels, we will have come full circle, then, won’t we?
Biden left the arms lying around in Afghanistan and Ukraine, Biden enriched the cartels looking for arms to buy, and Biden let Bout out of the clink in a cheap exchange for a woke basketball player who checked the right boxes, effectively releasing him like a sealed bacillus.
Letting Bout out sounds like a perfect storm of trouble for the U.S., and this guy didn’t like the U.S. to start with, given his willingness to sell weapons to FARC to kill Americans. Now he’s got motive for revenge on the Americans that’s cubed, based on those 14 years of hard time he did in Marion, Indiana. That dovetails with Putin’s motive for revenge, based on U.S. money-flinging and weapons deliveries in Ukraine, and Russia’s huge, bigger-than-American-casualties-in-Vietnam casualty count.
Think the pair of them together again might just be dangerous? That’s pretty much what a lot of experts and prosecutors, including Trump-haters such as former New York U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, are saying, as are Shannon’s sources.
Expect some trouble on that front, and all of it based on Joe Biden’s foolish exchange.
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