The Biden Administration announced today that it had secured a prisoner exchange: WNBA player Brittney Griner for international arms dealer Viktor Bout — also known as The Merchant of Death. USA Today has more on Bout:
Bout, 55, is a former Soviet military officer and translator who was serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans, acquiring and export anti-aircraft missiles and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Bout claimed he was innocent, and the Kremlin repeatedly dismissed the U.S. prosecution as “baseless and biased.”
Bout, the son of a mechanic and a bookkeeper, drew a warm welcome from Russia on Thursday.
In a recorded meeting, Bout declared to undercover agents that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered to sell them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military.
Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012. In announcing the sentence, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, described Bout as “international arms trafficking enemy No. 1 for many years.” Bhara said Bout had armed some of the most violent conflicts around the world.
In exchange for Bout, the USA got Brittney Griner – the basketball player busted for marijuana possession in Russia. Left behind? Paul Whelan:
Detained American Paul Whelan told CNN he is “disappointed” the Biden administration has not done more to secure his release, meaning he’s been left behind in Russia after fellow detained American Brittney Griner was freed on Thursday.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said in an exclusive phone call from the penal colony where is being held in a remote part of Russia. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan said he was happy that Griner was released but told CNN he “was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.”