Victor Bout could be replaced by Britney Griner. Who is he?

Shortly after he was convicted in 2011 on charges including conspiracy to kill American citizens, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout delivered a cheeky message through his lawyer, even though he faced the prospect of a decade in prison.

mr. Booth, his lawyer said“thinks this is not the end.”

More than a decade later, Mr. Booth, 55, may be getting closer to a chance to start a new life, even though he has served less than half of his 25-year prison sentence.

The United States is trying to negotiate the release of two Americans imprisoned in Russia. basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan offered to trade them last month for Mr. Booth, according to a person briefed on the talks.

Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said Wednesday the United States had made a “substantial offer” to the Kremlin but declined to discuss details of a possible exchange and did not name Mr. Trump. Bolt. He said he expected to raise the issue in the coming days with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russian officials pressed Mr. Return Bout following his 2011 conviction by a jury in New York on four counts, including conspiracy to kill American citizens. Prosecutors said he agreed to sell anti-aircraft weapons to anti-narcotics informants who posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Then-Attorney General Eric Holder called Mr. Booth (pronounced “Boot”) “one of the most prolific arms dealers in the world.” mr. Booth became notorious among US intelligence officials, earning the nickname “Death Dealer” as he evaded arrest for years. His exploits inspired the 2005 film Lord of War, which starred Nicolas Cage as a character modeled after Mr. Cage. Bolt.

Now he is probably the most famous Russian in US custody and a prisoner whose return Russia has vociferously advocated. If he is sent back to Russia, it is likely to reignite the debate about the appropriateness of exchanging prisoners for Americans whom the United States considers “wrongly detained” – as in the case of Ms. Bela. Griner and Mr. Whelan.

In conversations with journalists, G. Bolt has repeatedly rejected accusations that he worked for the Russian special services. But Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security services, said there are clear signs. Bout’s background, his social and professional connections, and his logistical skills are that he is a member of, or at least worked closely with, the Russian military intelligence known as the GRU.

“This is also the opinion of the US authorities and other countries, and it explains the reasons why Russia is campaigning so hard for his return,” Mr. Trump said. Galeotti, Lecturer on Russia and Transnational Crime at University College London. “All countries are trying to get their citizens out of tight jurisdiction, but it is clear that the return of Viktor Bout is of particular importance to Russians.”

mr. Bout grew up in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, before being drafted into the Soviet military at the age of 18. After serving in the army, he studied Portuguese at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages ​​in Moscow, the usual entrance to Russian intelligence. service and eventually became an Air Force officer.

The Soviet Union collapsed shortly after G. Bout left the army. When the Russian economy collapsed and criminal gangs flourished, he moved to the United Arab Emirates and founded a cargo company that grew to a fleet of 60 aircraft.

Prosecutors said that as military supplies from the former Soviet republics leaked onto the black market, his shipping empire was delivering weapons to insurgents, militants and terrorists around the world. In a new era of privatization in Russia, arms dealers have been able to use old Soviet-era social, military and business networks, as well as set up front companies to cover up operations.

mr. Bout was accused of selling weapons to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and militants in Rwanda. According to several investigations and his US prosecutionhave and his partners violated arms embargoes in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria, where he sold weapons to both government forces and rebels fighting them.

His ability to evade capture made him notorious among Western intelligence officials. In 1995, the Taliban shot down one of his planes in Afghanistan, seized the cargo, and imprisoned the crew. mr. Bout and Russian officials somehow managed to get the film crew out of the country: in 2003, he told New York Times Magazine “have been extracted”, and in 2012 New Yorker reported, he said they just ran away.

US authorities finally caught him in Bangkok in 2008. Booth met with undercover DEA agents who he believed represented insurgents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States considered a terrorist organization. until last year.

When potential buyers told him that the weapon could be used to kill American pilots, Mr. Booth replied: “We have the same enemy,” prosecutors said.

Thai authorities arrested him on the spot. In 2010, he was extradited to the United States, and two years later he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In subsequent years, Russian authorities supported Mr. Bout and presented him as a possible exchange for other high-ranking American and Ukrainian detainees held by Russia. He was at the center of a Russian “we don’t leave our own” campaign, which called his arrest unfair and politically motivated.

mr. The Bout swap was a priority for Russia, “a matter of honor and ruthless pragmatism,” Mr. Trump said. Galeotti, expert on Russia.

The Russian intelligence services “inherited a culture from the former Soviet KGB that makes it clear to its agents: ‘We’ll get you back.’ That kind of loyalty to one’s own is really important when you expect people to potentially put themselves in danger.”

Mr. Bout’s wife Alla told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday evening that neither she nor her husband had heard of his possible exchange.

“Yesterday we talked on the phone,” she said, according to the news agency. “Of course, we assume that such negotiations can take place, but we don’t talk about it, because neither he nor I have any information.”

Oleg Morozov, a member of the Russian parliament, the Duma, welcomed the opportunity for Mr. Bout’s return.

“Viktor Bout was illegally convicted and has been waiting for help from the Russian state for many years,” he told RIA Novosti. “If there is an opportunity to secure his release, then, in my opinion, this chance should be used.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Bout’s possible return would further encourage Russia to arrest Westerners who could be sold; Moscow denies allegations that it deliberately arrests people in order to secure an exchange.

“The very real risk of this deal is that it encourages foreign powers to grab Americans off the streets and throw them in jail,” said Lee Woloski, a former National Security Council official during the Clinton administration who led the initial US effort. capture the city of Bolt. “And the more visible these traveling Americans, the better.”

Andrey Soldatov, a Russian journalist and intelligence expert and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said that while Mr. Bout was America’s most respected Russian prisoner, there were far more Russians in US prisons, especially for hacking.

Russian authorities, Mr. Soldatov said, learned how to “create hostage banks” in the early 2000s during a brutal war with the self-proclaimed Chechnya, immediately after President Vladimir Putin came to power.

“It was a lesson they never forgot,” Mr. Soldiers. Referring to the Russian intelligence services, he said: “From their point of view, it makes sense to do the same with the United States.”

Michael Crowley as well as Ivan Nechepurenko made a report.