Viktor Bout speaks of time in US prison and his ‘value’ to Russia
In an exclusive interview with RT, Russian businessman Viktor Bout said he does not believe he is of any particular value to the Russian government.
Bout was released on Thursday as part of Russia-US prisoner exchange, after spending more than 14 years behind bars, of which 12 were spent in US prisons, on arms trafficking charges.
He said there are “probably thousands and thousands and thousands” of cases like his in Russian history, and that he was merely caught up in the gears of geopolitics. Bout was commenting on claims in Western media that his release was of particular importance to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bout credited his release to “the support of you all” at home and the notion that as Russians “we don’t leave our own behind”.
The businessman was taken into custody in 2008 after a sting operation in Thailand, and in 2012 was convicted by a US court for illegal arms dealing.
He was interviewed for RT by Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights advocate, who also served a prison term in the US. She was caught up in the Russiagate scandal in 2018, and convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the US. In the interview, Bout noted the similarity between his case and Butina’s.
When asked if he considered himself a victim of Russophobia, Bout said he didn’t like the term, and stressed that he did not experience any discrimination for being Russian, either from inmates or staff at the federal prison near Marion in Williamson County, Illinois.
“Mostly my fellow inmates were sympathetic towards Russia. Or at least, if they knew nothing about it, they would ask me questions,” he said. Bout linked their attitude to Illinois being a “red belt” state.
Some US politicians have criticized Bout’s exchange for basketball player Brittney Griner, saying it showed weakness on Washington’s part, and undermined the country’s position. Bout himself ridiculed that notion, saying such comments were reducing politics to the level of schoolyard rivalries.
“I am certain that our leadership does not think in those terms, whether you are weak or not. Real strength doesn’t require expression on such a, frankly, cheap level. I believe the deal happened because some common ground was found that allowed both sides to be satisfied,” he said.
Bout stressed that he does not want to think about how his life could have turned out if he had not been imprisoned, or to hold a grudge. After experiencing difficulty, you have to “clench your teeth” and stick to what is true, he said.
He acknowledged that years spent in US custody have taken their toll, and he now occasionally struggles to find the right words when speaking Russian. However, he stressed that the most important thing is that he can now be back with his wife, Alla.