With Bout back in Russia, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stressed that “our interest in national security will not change.”
“We’re going to make sure we can defend this country against all threats,” Kirby told CNN on Thursday. “And so, with Mr. Bout back on the streets, we’re going to stay focused on making sure we can defend this country.”
Sen. Bob Mendezthe Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there was no equivalence between Griner and Bout.
“We cannot ignore that Bout’s release to the world is a deeply troubling decision,” he said in a statement Thursday. “We need to stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans abroad as bargaining chips, and we need to try to do better to encourage American citizens not to travel to places like Russia where they are the main targets of this type of illegal detention.”
Bout, a former Soviet military officer, started a cargo airline, Air Cess, with a small fleet of Russian aircraft in 1995. Bout’s airline has supplied weapons to conflicts on the African continent and in Afghanistan, sometimes two sides, fueling civil wars around the world. .
“If I didn’t do it, someone else would,” Bout told The New Yorker in 2012.
British officials began sounding the alarm about Bout in the early 2000s as their soldiers in Africa came under attack from increasingly sophisticated weapons, particularly in Sierra Leone and Angola.
“Viktor Bout is indeed the main sanctions breaker, and is a death dealer who owns airlines that fly weapons and other logistical support for the rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone and take out the diamonds that pay those weapons…helping and abetting people who turn their guns against British soldiers,” Peter Hain, Minister of State for Africa at the UK Foreign Office, said in the House of Commons In 2000.
Bout is best known for his role in the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, which killed 250,000 people and destroyed much of the country. Between 1989 and 2003, Bout sold weapons to warring factions in the conflict, including corrupt former President Charles Taylor, violating several United Nations arms embargoes.
Besides Liberia and Afghanistan, Bout has also been active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Angola, Yemen, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
Bout was arrested on March 6, 2008 in Thailand during an undercover operation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
If Bout were to return to his old job, the US military would focus on letting its allies in Africa know that he does not have their best interests at heart, the senior DoD official said.
“Every Africanist who’s been working on this for years and years will probably have a little flutter of disappointment inside” that Bout was released, the person said. “If his network … were to come to fruition, then we would certainly share the challenges of what illicit weapons or illegal weapons could mean for their prosperity.
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