Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — who was released last year from U.S. custody in a prisoner swap — this week criticized politicians who “play chess” with detainees.
“I feel really sorry when this wheel of destiny go[es] through somebody else[‘s] li[fe] ruining it,” Bout, who was exchanged for WNBA star Brittney Griner, said in an interview with ESPN.
He added that people like Griner, or himself, sometimes “pay a price” because politicians try to “play chess, on this big chessboard which they call geopolitics.”
Bout, more commonly known as the “Merchant of Death,” also revealed that he told Griner “good luck” during their prisoner exchange last year. Griner spent 10 months detained in Russia for bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil with her.
“I said … ‘I wish you good luck, and, you know, and we both went to our, you know, planes,” he said.
The Biden administration has faced criticism from Republicans for the swap deal. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called the exchange “a gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time.
“Negotiations for release of wrongful detainees are often very difficult, that’s just a reality,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in response to Republican criticism.
Bout had been sentenced to 25 years in 2012 for charges related to trafficking weapons and conspiring to kill Americans. Because of Bout’s dealing background, Fox News’ Peter Doocy said Russia got a better deal in the wake of the swap because Griner is a professional athlete.
“The professional athlete is also an American citizen, let’s not forget that,” Jean-Pierre pushed back. “The president felt that this was an opportunity to bring Brittney home.”
Bout in the recent interview was asked about the criticism, and he said it was similar to how the Russians felt when he was detained.
“Well, think of this, that the same outrage was in Russia when I was sentenced to 25 years. Many people would say, ‘For what? Just for talking? Are you serious?’ he told ESPN.
“There is not even a proper translation to Russian of the crime of conspiracy,” Bout continued. “We don’t have such even the legal term, So, this is this same kind of outrage in Russia about my case and about many other cases.”
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