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Viktor Bout Says He Wished Brittney Griner Luck During Prisoner Swap


Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer swapped in a prisoner swap for US basketball star Brittney Griner, said he wished the WNBA player well as the two briefly crossed paths at Abu Dhabi last week.

“I wished her good luck, she even held out my hand,” Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”, told Russian public television channel RT on Saturday. “Our tradition is to wish everyone good luck and happiness.”

When asked if Griner had engaged with him on the high-profile swap, the 55-year-old replied, “Yes, she did, and I felt she was very positive towards me.”

Edited video of the pair shared by Russian state media on Thursday does not appear to show the two conversations, and Griner has not commented on the alleged interaction. In the footage, Griner can be seen flanked by three Russian men in suits and Bout is accompanied by an American man in khakis. The two walk beside each other on the tarmac before Bout hugs the Russians and Griner leaves with the American.

Russian state media released this edited footage of the prisoner swap between Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout on December 8. (Video: Russian state media)

In his Saturday interview, Bout also expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying he believed Moscow should have launched military action “sooner”.

“I fully support it,” he said of the war. “If I had the opportunity and the skills, I would definitely volunteer.

His interview was conducted by Marina Butina, a Russian agent convicted and imprisoned in the United States for conspiring to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other organizations without registering with authorities. She was released and deported to Russia in October 2019.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was scheduled to play in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February. She was sentenced to 9.5 years in prison after bringing vaping cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage, which is illegal in Russia. Griner said it was an honest mistake, and her lawyers said she had a prescription to treat chronic pain and other conditions.

Who is Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer traded for Brittney Griner?

Bout was serving a 25-year sentence in a medium-security prison in Illinois for conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and selling weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when President Biden approved his release and commuted his sentence. The Kremlin had long called for Bout’s release, calling his sentencing “unlawful”.

In a separate interview with RT on Friday, also with Butina, Bout said it was difficult to describe his newfound freedom.

“It’s even hard to find the right words to describe everything,” he said, before adding that he didn’t think he was “important” to Russian politics or Putin.

“We don’t abandon our own people, do we?” he said of Russia’s fight for his release.

Russia badly wanted the return of Viktor Bout. The question is: Why?

Griner touched down in San Antonio early Friday, ending a nearly 10-month saga that brought one of the world’s best female basketball players to the heart of US-Russian tensions. Officials said Griner would receive medical treatment and other support.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, celebrated her partner’s return home in an Instagram post on Saturday, adding that the couple are recovering from their split.

“As BG and I begin our journey to heal our minds, bodies and spirits – I personally wanted to say thank you to some of the hands; seen and invisible, it allowed me to see my wife again! she wrote.

Natalia Abbakumova, Miriam Berger, Mary Ilyushina, Arelis R. Hernández, and Niha Masih contributed to this report.

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