Viktor Bout says he wishes Brittney Griner luck during prisoner swap


Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer who swapped American basketball star Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap, said the pair met in Abu Dhaka last week. He wished the WNBA player the best of luck for the brief encounter.

“I wished her luck and she even extended her hand,” Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” told Russia’s state-run RT television network on Saturday. “Our tradition is to wish everyone good luck and happiness.”

Asked whether Greiner had approached him during the high-level exchange, the 55-year-old said: “Yes, she has, and I think she has been very positive with me.”

An edited video of the pair shared by Russian state media on Thursday did not appear to show the conversation, and Griner did not comment on the alleged interaction. In the video, Griner can be seen standing next to three Russian men in suits, while Bout is flanked by an American man in khaki pants. The two passed each other on the tarmac, Bout hugged the Russian, and Greiner left with the American.

Russian state media released this edited footage of the prisoner exchange between Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout on Dec. 12. 8. (Video: Russian state media)

In Saturday’s interview, Bout also expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying he believed Moscow should have launched military action “much earlier”.

“I’m all for it,” he said of the war. “If I had the opportunity and the necessary skills, I would definitely volunteer.”

His interview was conducted by Marina Butina, a Russian operative who was convicted and jailed in the United States for conspiring to infiltrate the NRA and other organizations without registering with authorities. She was released in October 2019 and deported to Russia.

Greiner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was scheduled to travel to Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February. She was sentenced to 9.5 years in prison after carrying in her luggage an e-cigarette cartridge containing a small amount of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. Greiner said it was an inadvertent mistake, and her attorney said she had prescriptions for chronic pain and other ailments.

Who is Viktor Bout, Russian arms dealer for Brittney Griner?

Bout was serving 25 years in a medium-security prison in Illinois for conspiring to kill a U.S. national and selling weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when President Biden approved his release and reduced sentence. The Kremlin has long called for Bout’s release, calling his conviction “illegal.”

In separate interviews with RT and Butina on Friday, Butina said it was difficult to describe his new freedom.

“It’s hard to find the right words to describe all of this,” he said, before adding that he didn’t believe he had “any significance” for Russian politics or Putin.

“We’re not leaving our people behind, are we?” he said of Russia’s fight for his release.

Russia desperately wants Viktor Bout back. The question is: why?

Greiner touched down in San Antonio early Friday, ending a nearly 10-month saga that has put one of the world’s best women’s basketball players at the heart of U.S.-Russia tensions. Griner will receive medical and other support, officials said.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, celebrated her partner’s return home in an Instagram post Saturday, adding that the couple is recovering from their time apart.

“As BG and I embark on our journey to heal our minds, bodies and spirits – I want to personally say thank you to a few people; seen and unseen, that made it possible for me to see my wife again!” she wrote up.

Natalia Abbakumova, Miriam Berger, Mary Ilyushina, Arelis R. Hernández and Niha Masih contributed to this report.

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