Released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout said on Saturday that he “wholeheartedly” supports Moscow’s so-called “military operation” in Ukraine and that if given the opportunity and the necessary skills, he would “definitely go as a volunteer”.
Bout, dubbed the “Trader of Death” by his accusers, was released from U.S. detention on Thursday in a prisoner exchange for American basketball star Brittney Griner.
Bout made the comments in a video interview with the Kremlin-controlled TV network RT. He was interviewed by Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights enthusiast turned TV personality who now works for the network.
In the interview, he denied any ties to the Taliban and that he supplied weapons to Afghanistan.
When asked if he had a portrait of President Vladimir Putin in his cell, Bout replied: “Yes, always. Why not? I am proud that I am Russian and that our president is Putin.”
The former Soviet military officer was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. Bout, who had maintained his innocence, is believed to be in his fifties, and his age is disputed due to various passports and documents.
Griner, 32, returned to the United States early Friday after being released in exchange for an international arms dealer. She was “in a good mood” and “incredibly friendly,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
Griner — who had played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the offseason — was arrested in February at a Moscow region airport on drug charges. Despite her testimony that she accidentally put the found cannabis oil in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and moved to a penal colony in Mordovia in mid-November after losing her appeal.
The trade, which US President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday, did not include another American the State Department has falsely detained, Paul Whelan. Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial that U.S. officials have called unfair.
Griner and Whelan’s families had urged the White House to secure their release, including through prisoner exchange if necessary.