Freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout said on Saturday that he “wholeheartedly” supported Moscow’s so-called “military operation” in Ukraine and that if he had the opportunity and the necessary skills, he would go ” certainly as a volunteer”.
Bout, dubbed the “merchant of death” by his accusers, was released from US custody on Thursday in a prisoner swap for US basketball star Brittney Griner.
Bout made the remarks in a video interview with Kremlin-controlled TV channel 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 connection with the Taliban and having supplied weapons to Afghanistan.
When asked if he had a portrait of President Vladimir Putin in his prison cell, Bout replied: “Yes, always. Why not? I am proud to be Russian and that our president is Putin.
The former Soviet military officer was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States for conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to a terrorist organization. Bout, who had claimed his innocence, is believed to be in his 50s, his age being disputed due to different passports and documents.
Griner, 32, returned to the United States early on Friday after being released in exchange for an international arms dealer. She was “in good spirits” and “incredibly personable,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
Griner – who had played in the offseason for a Russian women’s basketball team – was arrested for drug trafficking at a Moscow region airport in February. Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil found in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and transferred to a penal colony in Mordovia in mid-November after losing her call.
The swap, which US President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday, did not include another American the State Department said was wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan. Whelan was arrested for alleged espionage in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial that US officials have called unfair.
Griner and Whelan’s families had urged the White House to secure their release, including via a prisoner exchange if necessary.