Booth, 55, is the most infamous weapon dealer of your time, the accused of profit off weapons of conflict in Africa, Middle East and Asia.
Who is Viktor Bout, Russian weapons dealer big-eyed in rumored prisoner change?
Secretary this week of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States had made a “substantial offer” to Russia to secure liberation. of two Americans arrested in Moscow, WNBA star Britney Griner and security consultant Paul Whelan. Russian officials have hinted that they expect prisoner change.
Few doubt that Booth will be the best. prize for Russian officials, who have been protesting his treatment since 2008. arrest in Thailand after being bitten by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Steve Zissou, Bout’s New York lawyer, warned this month that “Americans will not be exchanged unless Victor Bout is sent home”.
What’s less clear, however, is why Russia cares so much about Bout. When CIA Director William J. Burns was asked at the Aspen Security Forum this month why Russia needed Bout, Burns replied: good question, because Viktor Bout is a bastard.”
Although Russia has complained that Bout has fallen into the trap of the DEA, many US officials and analysts believe that its anger is not due to Bout’s merit. of case, but rather Booth’s references to Russian military intelligence.
US officials hope public pressure will bring Russian release of prisoners
“His clear that he had significant connections with the Russians government circles,” said Lee Wolensky, a member of the National Security Council. official in Clinton administration who led early efforts to combat network.
Although less well-known than the KGB and its successor FSB, the Russian military intelligence agency, commonly known as the GRU, has reputation for take bolder and more risky actions. He was accused in last years of everything from hacking elections to killing dissidents.
In addition, reports suggest that Bout may have had close ties to Igor Sechin, former deputy prime minister of Russia and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both Sechin and Bout served with Soviet military in Africa in the 1980s.
Booth denies any such links to the GRU. He has also said he didn’t know Sechin.
But this silence may have meaning. Arms dealer refused to cooperate with US authorities, even when he was sitting for over a decade isolated and alone in thousand cell of miles from it home in Moscow. This silence can be rewarded.
“He kept cool in prison As far as I can tell, he never gave anything to the Americans,” said Russian journalist Andrey Soldatov.
Simon Sarajyan of Belfer Center at Harvard University for Science and International Affairs stated that Bout could never manage such a large smuggling operation. business without government protectionbut that he never spoke of it. “Russian government seeks to return it so that it remains so way” said Saradzhyan.
Bout’s release will send a message to others who may end up in problems, said Mark Galeotti, expert on Russian security: “The motherland will not forget you.”
“Russian successfully bringing [him] back will be regarded as a triumph,” said Galeotti. “Let’s face this, at the moment the Kremlin is watching for triumphant.”
Russian political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of political analysis R.Politik groupPutin said he wants something deeper than political gain. “We have special word in Russian language for people like Booth: “Own.” This means that someone fromus.’ it’s someone who worked for Motherland at least in [the government’s] eyes”.
Booth, who said in interview that he was born in Tajikistan in 1967, studied languages at the Soviet Military Institute. of Foreign languages in Moscow. He said he was encouraged to learn Portuguese and then sent to Angola to work as a translator with Soviet air force.
military institutions were key grounds for recruitment for GRU (English) more the improved KGB meanwhile stuck to the universities), experts say. And although his ties to Sechin are unclear, both studied Portuguese and crossed paths. with Soviet military in Mozambique.
Shortly after the crash of Soviet Union, Booth, like a lot others who saw an opportunity to make money in the midst of chaos, became an entrepreneur. He used small fleet of Soviet-made Antonov An-8 aircraft set up air transportation business and was obviously willing to take risks that others would not take by flying into war zones and failed states.
Booth also It’s believed that access to something more valuable than airplanes: knowledge of fate of huge caches of the Soviet Union of weapon.
“He was moving out weapon for decade, from places like Ukraine,” said Douglas Farah, President of in national security firm IBI Consultants and co-author of Booth book.
By 2000 Booth was one of the world’s most notorious traffickers. He was dubbed “the most leading dealer of death” in British Parliament and was named in UN reports for supply of heavy weapons to the insurgency in Angola, as well as Charles Taylor from Liberia, then supporting a deadly Civil War in neighboring Sierra Leone.
How Booth Worked for Russian military interests are discussed. Farah said that, in his opinion, given the scale of military equipment moves like this work could have been tacitly approved by the GRU.
Wolenski said that Bout came to the attention of the Clinton administration because he disrupted peace processes that the president supported across Africa.
“In some cases, he armed both sides of conflict,” Volensky said.
Against the backdrop of an increase international pressure, including Interpol arrest warrant issued in In 2004, Bout returned to Moscow.
According to many sources, Booth at that time stepped back from his most intense work in weapon trade. He lived in Golitsyno, and small town outside Moscow. A friend is visiting him home in 2008 later noted that it was filled with books and, surprisingly, DVDs of Nicolas Cage’s 2005 film Lord of War”, which was reportedly inspired by Booth’s life.
Unfortunately for he, this guest – former South African intelligence agent Andrew Smulian – worked for DEA.
Booth was arrested later in Thailand, where it was secretly recorded by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which organized purchase of 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 AK-47s, 20,000 fragmentation grenades, 740 mortars, 350 sniper rifles, 5 tons of C-4 explosives and 10 million rounds of ammunition for people he thought they were agents for Revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC), rebel group.
Difficult special operation cost key problem in US persecution of Booth: He didn’t break any US laws. In 2011, a federal court in New York found he is guilty of diversity of allegations, including conspiracy to kill US citizens.
Russian officials complained, in particular, about aggressive and unusual targeting of Booth.
But the record of Booth helped make the broader argument that he was no ordinary businessman. When agents posing as buyers for FARC said weapons will be used against US Air Force pilots at work with Colombian government Booth was heard telling them that they had “the same enemy”.
“Is not business,” he said. “This is mine fight”.