Friday, May 24, 2024

Russia’s ‘merchant of death’ joins ultranationalist party

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – nicknamed the “merchant of death” – has joined the pro-Kremlin ultranationalist LDPR party, following his release in a high-profile U.S. prisoner swap.

In a video posted online, LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) leader Leonid Slutsky thanked Bout, 55, for becoming a member of “the best political party in today’s Russia.”

After an elaborate U.S. sting, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in jail in 2011.

Last week, he was exchanged for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, 32.

Griner, 32, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil, and last month was sent to a penal colony.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas told ESPN that on Sunday, she picked up a basketball for the first time in almost 10 months, starting her light workout with a dunk.

The agent added that it did not necessarily mean that the athlete – who is currently in the city of San Antonio – would resume her sporting career at the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

In the LDPR video published on Monday, Bout is seen standing on stage together with Slutsky and other leading party members.

Slutsky said that Bout had spent “long years” in prison, but “today he is with us.”

“We will return all those who are in trouble outside our motherland,” he added.

For the time being, Bout said that he was not planning to run in any elections, Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency reports.

The LDPR was founded in the early 1990s by the late Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who gained notoriety for his outrageous comments – including repeated demands for Moscow to use nuclear weapons – and his eccentric behaviour.

A serious contender for power during the first years in post-Soviet Russia, the party is now seen by many as loyal to the Kremlin on key issues, such as the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

It is not the first time the LDPR has recruited high-profile figures at the centre of big international scandals.

In 2007, Russian security agent Andrei Lugovoi – wanted in the U.K. on suspicion of poisoning former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko the year before – joined the LDPR after fleeing London. He is now a member of the State Duma, the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament.

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