Viktor Bout, the ‘Merchant of Death,’ discusses exchange with Brittney Griner, says he wished her ‘good luck’
Brittney Griner spent roughly 10 months in a Russian prison before the United States brought her home in exchange for Viktor Bout.
Bout is a convicted Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans relating to the support of a Colombian terrorist organization.
He was nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” because of his notoriety for running a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots in Africa. And his life inspired the Nicolas Cage film “Lord of War.”
The swap outraged some Americans who argued the United States gave up way too much in exchange for the WNBA star. Griner had been ridiculed for saying the national anthem should not be played before sporting events, but she has since changed her stance.
American officials, most notably President Biden, were also criticized for not including in the exchange Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted of espionage charges he says are false. He is serving a 16-year sentence.
Many Americans also thought Griner’s nine-year jail sentence for drug charges was way too harsh.
Bout compared his sentence in the U.S. to Griner’s sentence in his homeland, saying it was “the same outrage … in Russia when I was sentenced to 25 years.”
“Many people would say ‘for what? Just for talking? Are you serious?’” Bout said in an interview with ESPN. “There is not even a proper translation to Russian of the term of conspiracy. We don’t have such even the legal term. So, this is the same kind of outrage in Russia about my case and about many other cases.”
Bout and Griner were swapped for one another in December.
“So, they put the two planes together, give us some instruction, went down, and here you are,” Griner said. “Somebody showed up from Russian side saying ‘Hi, is everything fine?’ I said ‘Yes.’ So he identified me, and then couple minutes afterwards, the exchange literally happened.”
“Admittedly, I was a little shocked seeing her without her signature braids. She was way taller than me. I just shake the hand, I said to her, ‘I wish you good luck.’ And we both went to our planes.”
Bout says he is now open to speaking about the exchange because he has “nothing to hide” and wants a normal relationship between Russia and the United States.
“I do believe we have a common ground to have at least normal relation between our countries, but I hope, one of these days, we have a perfect and good economic and people-to-people relation again.”
Griner was named an All-Star for the eighth time this season and is averaging 17.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.