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Ukraine, why Russia wanted Viktor Bout in exchange for Brittney Griner

Why Russia wanted Viktor Bout in exchange for Brittney Griner. Moscow needs the former GRU operative to refurnish the weapons, components and technology blocked by the sanctions

There is a specific reason why Russia has demanded the release of Viktor Bout in exchange for the US basketball player Brittney Griner. Moscow, with the continuation of the war in Ukraine, urgently needs the services of the man. Objective: to acquire the weapons, systems and technologies that Russia needs to carry on the conflict. In fact, Moscow’s current partners – Iran in primis – can only guarantee limited supplies, which will soon run out. Furthermore, sanctions and strict international controls make it very difficult to access the components, even taking advantage of intermediaries and secondary markets, less supervised. Consequently, trusted actors, who can remedy the problems, obtaining results in a short time are needed and Bout is the right man. He has the experience, the right connections and a debt to Moscow to repay: his unexpected release.

The “history” of Viktor Anatolyevich Bout

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout, on the other hand, is not just anyone. He was born in what is now Tajikistan on January 13, 1967 and, given his mastery of foreign languages (before his arrest in 2008 he spoke seven and during his incarceration he claimed to have studied others), he soon joined the Russian armed forces as translator. Later, he became an operative of the GRU, the military intelligence service, and then went on his own after the collapse of the Soviet Union, becoming arguably the largest living arms dealer. His strength was a fleet of aircraft, which he used to make deliveries all over the world: from Africa to Afghanistan, passing through Europe and the Middle East: the Air Cess. Even Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda used him to build the “international Islamic legion” in Afghanistan. In fact, Bout was entrusted with control of the “Ariana Afghan Airlines”, defined as “the taxi service of terrorism”.

The contacts and capabilities of the arms dealer, critical for Russia today

Bout is also a skilled mediator and a man of relationships. It is no coincidence that he had good contacts – among others – with Hezbollah, the Libyans, Angolans and Bosnians, to whom he seems to have provided aid during the revolt against Milosevic. Obviously, there are several Arab and Latin American countries and Iran. It is precisely these contacts, combined with the man’s organizational ability, that appeal to Russia at a time when Vladimir Putin himself officially admits that the war in Ukraine may not be short. Especially since Russia has already heavily eroded its war stocks and, as seen with the Iranian Shahed 136 drones, has already had to call on external forces to keep the balance with the forces in Kiev, supported by NATO and the EU. Bout is the right man to quickly find new sources of supply on the black market or in different channels. Not only of weapons and systems, but also and above all of the components and technology necessary to rebuild Moscow’s war stocks, which are increasingly difficult to find today due to sanctions and controls.

The Bout “file”

According to various sources:

  • he is of Ukrainian ethnicity, has an older brother named Sergei and would become a Russian citizen after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991;
  • he is said to be fluent in Esperanto, which he allegedly learned at the age of 12 as a member of the Dushanbe Esperanto club;
  • he served in the Soviet Armed Forces graduating from the Russian Military Institute of Foreign Languages. This training allowed him to master various foreign languages: Portuguese, English, French, Tajik, Arabic and Farsi (Persian);
  • was sent on a mission together with Igor Sechin – (Leningrad, 7 September 1960, indicated by the US “Stratford” Center for Strategic Analysis as a KGB agent) – to Mozambique in the 1980s and to Angola, where he carried out the duties of translator from Portuguese for the Soviet military mission. According to some sources, Bout was involved in a Soviet military operation in the African country in the late 1980s to support the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war. During this period he also learned the Khosa and Zulu languages;
  • would have been discharged from the USSR Army after its disbandment in 1991 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, but some Soviet intelligence experts argue that he was a major in the GRU—Soviet Air Force officer—who had graduated from a program of training of that military intelligence.

Bout in Mozambique, in the late 1980s he met his future wife whom he married in 1992: Alla Vladimirovna Bout (born Protasova in 1970 in Leningrad). Alla lei is an artist-designer and stylist-owner of clothing stores in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, South Africa and Russia. She by herself had a daughter born in 1994 in the UAE.

During the disintegration of the USSR, she managed to buy several military planes at a good price among those left unused, also thanks to his military connections. Most likely, as a former member of the Soviet military, he was in a good position to buy surplus military equipment, including aircraft. But it is not excluded that he obtained them as an “illegal” of those information services for undercover operations. In addition to aircraft, he also found completely abandoned arsenals of weapons (pistols, bullets, hand grenades, rockets, sniper rifles, tactical bombs and guided missiles), stored in buffer countries, mainly in Ukraine and Belarus. Weapons that obviously ended up fueling illegal trafficking in support of various domestic and foreign crisis areas. The planes purchased – we are talking about over 40 – in 1993 were transferred by him and his older brother – his former partner – Sergey Anatolyevich Bout to the United Arab Emirates (Sharjah) merging them into Flying Dolphin, with registered offices in the UAE and Bucharest (Romania ), a company shared with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan. His brother continues to legitimately exercise his aviation activity in the Emirates and in Romania.

In Sharjah, Bout met Richard Ammar Chichakli, a Syrian-American citizen who became his bookkeeper. In 1995, he was hired at Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates as commercial director of the airport free trade zone. In that capacity Chichakli became Bout’s “financial manager” and didn’t worry too much about what the planes carried; for him it was essential that they did not leave empty and that the clients paid promptly. For his “lightness” Chichakli on December 13, 2013, was sentenced in the USA to five years in prison for money laundering, computer fraud and criminal association with Victor Bout. In 1995 the Tajik registered his Air Cess airline in Liberia and subsequently established others, always in foreign countries where the rules were less stringent, especially in New Guinea and Central Africa. Since then he has started a flourishing air transport business, becoming a major trafficker – especially of weapons, but he has not disdained the trafficking of coltan and diamonds – also managing to sell goods that are difficult to procure, such as assault helicopters, anti-personnel mines , sniper rifles and night vision goggles. As a trafficker, he got involved in the conflicts that broke out in Sudan, Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supplying arms to the various factions. In addition to arms trafficking – produced in Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria – he also allegedly transported mercenaries to areas of military operations.

In 2001, according to a UN report, Bout was listed as the head of a transnational criminal group that had supplied and supplied arms to numerous para-military groups in Africa since the 1980s, with particular reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo area during the Second Congo War (1998-2003). At the time he bought the Ugandan airline Okapi Air – later renamed Odessa – employing about 300 people and managing 40 to 60 aircraft. The aircraft were frequently moved to the various cover companies he created to make it difficult for the various authorities to prosecute the criminal group. The aforementioned conflict was fought above all by criminal groups of political-military elites linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe to appropriate the precious minerals of those lands (above all coltan and diamonds). Between 2003 and 2004 – under the presidency of George Bush – although Bout was already in the “crosshairs” of the CIA for the sale of arms to the Taliban insurgents, their enemies of the Northern Alliance and the militiamen of the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, US officials also used his services to finance the war in Iraq, many times using his planes to transport all types of weapons to Baghdad.

In 2004, Bout and Chichakli also founded an airline in Tajikistan – Samar Airlines – to carry out money laundering activities and protect the assets of those authorities. In 2005 Viktor Bout was blacklisted by the US government, which began to treat him as an enemy, so the trafficker was forced to stay only in Moscow, living in his sumptuous villa with his wife and daughter and frequenting luxury restaurants and hotels .

Chameleon-like personality not only due to being multilingual and engaging in illegal activities, but also because he owns as many as five passports with his surname always spelled differently, i.e. Bout, But, Budd, Bont. It seems that he was also called Victor Anatoliyevich Bout, Viktor Bulakin, Viktor Butt, Victor But and Vadim Markovich Aminov. During his illegal operations he is believed to have lived in various countries, including Belgium, Lebanon, Rwanda, Russia, South Africa, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. However, his career was on the decline and on March 6, 2008, during an undercover operation by the United States security apparatus, Bout was arrested by the Royal Thai Police in collaboration with the American authorities and Interpol in Thailand on charges of terrorism. In August 2010 he was extradited to the United States and on November 2, 2011, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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