Russia hopeful of US prisoner swap including 'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout

Variously dubbed "the merchant of death" and "the sanctions buster" for his ability to get around arms embargoes, Bout was one of the world's most wanted men prior to his 2008 arrest.

 Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration officers after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, November 16, 2010.  (photo credit: REUTERS/US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/HANDOUT)
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration officers after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, November 16, 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS/US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/HANDOUT)

Russia hopes it can make a prisoner swap with the United States that would include convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death," a deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying on Friday.

Amid the deadliest war in Europe since World War II, Russia and the United States are exploring a prisoner swap that would see imprisoned Americans including basketball star Brittney Griner return to the United States in exchange for Bout.

The possible swap also includes Paul Whelan who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges that he denies.

"The Americans are showing some external activity, we are working professionally through a special channel designed for this," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Friday by Interfax.

"It is undeniable that Viktor Bout is among those who are being discussed, and we certainly count on a positive result," Ryabkov said.

 Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration officers after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, November 16, 2010.  (credit: REUTERS/US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/HANDOUT) Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration officers after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, November 16, 2010. (credit: REUTERS/US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/HANDOUT)

'The Merchant of Death'

Variously dubbed "the merchant of death" and "the sanctions buster" for his ability to get around arms embargoes, Bout was one of the world's most wanted men prior to his 2008 arrest on multiple charges related to arms trafficking.

For almost two decades, Bout was one of the world's most notorious arms dealers, selling weaponry to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America. In a 2003 interview with the New York Times, Bout joked that perhaps he "should start an arms-trafficking university and teach a course on UN sanctions busting."

But in 2008, Bout was snared in an elaborate US sting.

Bout was caught on camera agreeing to sell undercover US agents posing as representatives of Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas 100 surface-to-air missiles, which they would use to kill US troops. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested by Thai police.

Bout was tried on the charges related to FARC, which he denied, and in 2012 was convicted and sentenced by a court in Manhattan to 25 years in prison, the minimum sentence possible.

Ever since, the Russian state has been keen to get him back.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.