Report: Pentagon Worries Russian Released in Prisoner Swap May Return to Arms Trafficking

Viktor Bout (Getty Images)
December 8, 2022

Pentagon officials are concerned that Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer whom the Biden administration freed from U.S. custody Thursday in a prisoner swap, may return to his illicit trade, according to a Politico report.

"There is a concern that [he] would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past," a senior Pentagon official told Politico. The official said if Bout returns to illegal arms trafficking the U.S. military will focus on urging the United States' allies in Africa not to engage with the arms dealer.

Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death," had been serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill Americans and support a terrorist organization before he was exchanged for WNBA player Brittney Griner. Griner was in Russian custody since February, when she was arrested for possession of cannabis oil, and was imprisoned in a Russian prison colony to serve a nine-year sentence.

Some criticized the Biden administration for freeing Bout, who armed African warlords and is accused of dealing with al Qaeda and the Taliban, especially as former Marine Paul Whelan has remained in Russian custody since 2018. Whelan told CNN he was disappointed more was not done to secure his release.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Bout's release a "disturbing decision" and said the United States "must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips."