Russian entrepreneur Viktor Anatolyevich Bout earned the nickname “Merchant of Death” for his global weapons smuggling operations in the 1990s and early 2000s. Law enforcement officials arrested him on an INTERPOL warrant in 2008, and Justice Department prosecutors successfully convicted him for conspiring to kill US citizens and officials, earning him a 25-year prison sentence. However, it appears that President Joe Biden may be preparing to release the arms dealer as part of a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On July 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a press conference to discuss the ongoing Russia/Ukraine conflict. After concluding his prepared remarks, he took a few questions from reporters, including one about rumors that the Biden administration has decided to attempt to trade Bout for former US Marine Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Blinken declined to answer the question directly, citing the sensitive nature of the ongoing negotiations with Russian officials. Pressed on the matter, he confirmed that President Biden was “directly involved” in negotiating the two prisoners’ release and was “prepared to make tough decisions” when it came to securing their safe return.
Russian officials took Whelan into custody in 2018 when he visited Russia to attend a wedding. He received a 16-year prison sentence after his 2020 conviction on espionage charges. His family expressed optimism regarding his possible release.
Law enforcement officers arrested Griner in mid-February after customs officials allegedly found vape cartridges in her possession containing hash oil at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, welcomed news of the possible deal.