In a high-stakes trade last week, President Joe Biden authorized the release of convicted Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for the release by Russia of imprisoned WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner.
Just days after that exchange was made, Bout shared with Russian media what had been said between the two released prisoners as they passed each other on an airport tarmac, the Western Journal reported.
According to the black market arms trafficker, he wished the basketball player “good luck” in all of her future endeavors, as is “tradition” in Russia.
Exchange caught on edited video
There is a video of the prisoner exchange that was published by Russian sources and has since gone viral on social media that shows the swap being made at an airport in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, though it is conspicuously edited to cut out the moment when the two traded individuals were face to face.
Russian news agency TASS publishes footage of the Brittney Griner/Viktor Bout exchange. pic.twitter.com/QmOItTEQ3O
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) December 8, 2022
As can be seen in that video, Griner, escorted by three individuals presumably from Russia, met briefly in the middle of the tarmac with Bout and one other individual, presumably his American handler, before going their separate ways.
“I wished her luck”
According to Reuters, Bout appeared for an interview Saturday on Russian media outlet RT to discuss his release, and said of that momentary meeting with Griner, “I wished her luck, she even sort of reached out her hand to me.”
Indeed, just prior to the obvious edit in the middle of the video, it does appear as though Griner had begun to extend a handshake to Bout, though the two groups are already walking away from each other immediately after the unmistakable cut in the footage.
“Again, it’s our tradition. You should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” Bout said and added that, in his opinion, Griner had been “positively inclined” in greeting him.
Bout then proceeded to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin and expressed his full-fledged support for the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A controversial and lop-sided trade
The Washington Post reported that following the prisoner swap facilitated by the United Arab Emirates, Griner was to be transported to San Antonio, Texas to be reunited with her wife and family and receive any necessary medical care.
Griner had been arrested in February at an airport outside Moscow when she was found to be in possession of a vape device cartridge containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia, and was later convicted in a dubious trial and sentenced to hard labor in a penal colony.
Bout, on the other hand, had been convicted in the U.S. in 2011 of illicitly arming terrorist groups and other crimes and had already served more than a decade of his 25-year sentence — the remainder of which was commuted by President Biden, a move that has drawn sharp criticism, as well as Biden’s failure to also secure the exchange of imprisoned former Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges that he fervently denies.
In a press briefing on the day of the controversial exchange, an unnamed senior administration official made clear of Bout, “Nothing can remove the stigma of his guilty conviction in the U.S. justice system where, I would emphasize, he received due process of law, access to counsel, and a whole host of other rights and protections that Brittney was, appallingly, denied in the sham proceedings she faced in Russia. Nothing can change the fact that Bout has spent over 12 years behind bars in U.S. custody, paying a price for his crimes.”