Notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who returned to Russia last week after being swapped for Brittney Griner, has joined an ultra-nationalist political party in praising President Vladimir Putin – whose portrait he said he had displayed in his cell during his incarceration.
In a Telegram video published on Monday, Leonid Slutsky, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), welcomed Bout to the organization’s ranks.
“[He is] a courageous man who has become a symbol of the struggle for principles, for spiritual and moral foundations of today’s Russia,” said Slutzky.
After arriving in Moscow last week, Bout sat down for an interview with pro-Kremlin RT News and told former spy and journalist Maria Butina that he supports Putin and kept the president’s photo in his cell in a medium-security prison in Illinois for the entire period of his detention.
“I’m proud that I’m Russian and that Putin is our president,” Bout told Butina.
Bout also commented on the war in Ukraine, telling RT: “I know we’re going to win.”
Bout, a retired Soviet Air Force pilot with alleged ties to Russian military intelligence, said he would have volunteered to fight at the front if he had had the “necessary skills”.
“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Bout said, referring to Putin’s decision to invade the neighboring country in February.
The 56-year-old Bout, consistently portrayed as a legitimate businessman by state-controlled Russian media, spent 14 years in US custody following his arrest in Thailand in 2008 on charges of selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons have used to kill Americans.
He was more than a decade into his 25-year sentence when he was released last week and swapped out for the WNBA star, who has been in Russian custody for 10 months on drug-related charges.
Bout’s decision to become a member of the hardline LDPR with ID has sparked speculation that he may be eyeing a seat in Parliament.
But Bout, once dubbed the “dealer of death,” told reporters in Moscow on Monday that he had no immediate plans to run in any elections.
His foray into Russian politics was welcomed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and Putin friend who founded the Wagner Group paramilitary organization, which now operates in Ukraine.
“Viktor Bout is not a man – he is an ideal of solidity,” Prigozhin said in a statement released by his catering company. “Therefore, Bout is undoubtedly good as leader of every existing political party and movement. And it will definitely bring respect to people.”
Despite its name, the Liberal Democratic Party has championed an uncompromising, ultra-nationalist ideology since its founding in 1991, calling on Russia to retake the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Its founder and longtime leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky gained a reputation as a political showman for his outrageous stunts and eccentric behavior before his death in April.
Although viewed as a serious contender for power in the 1990s, the LDPR has since occupied a minor role in Russia’s political system, providing token opposition to the ruling bloc United Russia while supporting the Kremlin on most issues.
It has a long history of recruiting controversial figures into Russian politics. In 2007 Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent wanted in Britain for the murder of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko the previous year, was elected to parliament for the LDPR.
Lugovoy praised Bout as a “symbol of [Western] Hatred of Russia” which “withstood colossal pressure and overcame every obstacle to return to the motherland”.
With postal wires
https://nypost.com/2022/12/12/merchant-of-death-viktor-bout-joins-ultranationalist-party/ ‘Merchant of Death’ Viktor Bout joins ultranationalist party, praises Putin