Who is Viktor Bout? US seeks to swap Russia’s ‘Merchant of Death’ for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

Viktor Bout, also known as the 'Merchant of Death' is a Russian arms dealer, who was arrested in 2008 after a sting operation in Bangkok, Thailand


                            Who is Viktor Bout? US seeks to swap Russia’s ‘Merchant of Death’ for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan
Biden administration is willing to swap Viktor Bout (M) for Paul Whelan (L) and Brittney Griner (R)
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The US government is ready to make a deal with Russia in which they are willing to swap one person of interest for two people of theirs. The Biden administration confirmed on Wednesday, July 27, that they had made an important proposal to free two people of theirs. The Russian man that the Biden administration is willing to swap is considered to be a high-value asset to the Russian government as per former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler. 

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The Biden administration is willing to swap Viktor Bout in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and retired US Marine Paul Whelan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he has plans to discuss this swap with his Russian counterpart in their first encounter since the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian officials have long pushed for the release of Bout who was arrested in 2008. Since then, the Russian government has called his arrest "unlawful" and even accused the US government of making him a target of politics. As reported by Fox News, a White House spokesperson said, "The US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue, to make that happen, and as part of those efforts we made a substantial proposal to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home." 

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Griner was arrested this year in February after the police reportedly found cannabis oil in her bags. While she pleaded guilty this month to a drug smuggling charge, she has said that she never intended to violate Russian law. She could face up to 10 years in prison. Whelan, on the other hand, has maintained his innocence along with his family and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges. The US government has called the charges false. So, who is this Viktor Bout that these two governments want to swap?

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Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury was arrested after the police found cannabis oil in her bag (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Biden administration to make a deal to bring U.S. Marine Paul Whelan back home. (Photo: DustinW32272964)
Biden administration is set to make a deal with Russia to bring US Marine Paul Whelan back home (Photo: DustinW32272964/Twitter)

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Who is Viktor Bout?

Viktor Bout, also known as the "Merchant of Death" is a Russian arms dealer whose weapons sales were gigantic and helped fund worldwide conflicts. He was convicted in 2011 and is currently serving a 25-year sentence in US prison for 'conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization'. Bout has always maintained his innocence and claimed that he is an honest businessman. He was even portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie 'Lord of War'. 

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The 55-year-old Russian arms dealer was arrested in 2008 after a sting operation at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. He was welcomed by the Drug Enforcement Administration who were posing as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's (FARC) officials. The organization is classified by US officials as a narco-terrorist group. Bout was making a whopping $20 million deal with the organization, selling them "a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns, and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives."

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Viktor Bout sits inside a detention cell at Bangkok Supreme Court on July 28, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai court postponed the extradition hearing, for a second time, of Viktor Bout, after his attorney failed to turn up on Monday for the hearing to extradite Bout to the U.S. to face terrorism charges in connection to alleged arms smuggling.
Viktor Bout sits inside a detention cell at Bangkok Supreme Court on July 28, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai court postponed his extradition hearing, for a second time after his attorney failed to turn up on Monday for the hearing to extradite Bout to the US to face terrorism charges in connection to alleged arms smuggling (Photo by Chumsak Kanoknan/ Getty Images)

 

What do people think about this swap?

Secretary Antony Blinken tweeted, "I applaud @SecBlinken & @StateDept efforts to bring Britney Griner and Paul Whelan home even if it means handing over Viktor Bout. I support the swap. I just hope they include Marc Fogel in the deal. Bout is a real criminal. He with worth freeing 3 innocent Americans." Another user said, "If true that the US is offering Viktor Bout for the Americans in Moscow, as someone who covered Viktor for years and considers his conviction well deserved, it’s a good trade. VB’s done 14 tough years in Supermax holding him longer isn’t worth 10 years of the poor woman’s life."

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One user tweeted, "Great News! Sec of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States has offered Russia a deal to swap Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Thanks @POTUS for taking action! #FreeBrittneyGriner #FreePaulWhelan" Another user tweeted, "I am not a fan of #ViktorBout being released, but we have to do what we can to bring #BrittneyGriner home. It is more than a fair deal for Russia considering the various charges. Griner got busted for a minimal amount of weed, Bout is a convicted arms trafficker. #Biden"

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