The Merchant of Death: Who is Viktor Bout?

A translator and spy turned international arms dealer, Viktor Bout is to be part of a proposed prisoner swap between the US and Russia for the return of Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.



Griner was found guilty on drug smuggling charges by a Russian court, and convicted to 9 years in a penal colony after 1 milligram of cannabis oil, prescribed by her American doctor, was found in her vaping pen in her luggage in Moscow. The charges are obviously a political play by Putin in response to Ukraine sanctions. If you like our content, please become a patron to get our extra premium episodes every month, as well as our public episodes ad-free. 1

Trevor Reed, a former marine who was also imprisoned in Russia after allegedly attacking a policeman, another Kremlin fabricated story, was recently released in a successful prisoner swap and he said that Brittney Griner will experience "serious threats" to her health if she is sent to a labor camp.

Moscow asked for a second Russian to be added to the mix for this proposed swap, an FSB agent, Vadim Krasikov, a Russian spy / murderer, who was convicted in Germany for carrying out a killing on behalf of Russia, an act the judges called “state terrorism.”

It is hard to separate fact from fiction in Bout’s resume. He’s believed to have been born in 1967 in then-Soviet Tajikistan. He studied as a linguist at  Moscow-based Soviet Military Institute for Foreign Languages, a training school for officers, diplomats, and in many cases, spies. He learned Portuguese and he then started his career with the Red Army as a translator in Angola. 2

When the Soviet Union broke up, arms were scattered across the 15 new nations created by the dissolution, especially Bulgaria. These countries had neither the money to pay an army nor the infrastructure to keep the weapons they’d inherited. Viktor saw an opportunity. He assembled a fleet of ex-Soviet cargo planes, massive Antonov and Ilyushin aircraft, and began shipping arms and other goods all over the world. He set up a freight charter in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates and soon became the inspiration for Lord of War, an exceptional movie featuring Eamonn Walker, Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke. Bout kept company with African warlords and dictators such as Jean-Pierre Bemba, Masavenya and Jonas Savimbi.

After 9/11, the US needed scapegoats and Bout fit the bill. By entrapment, he was captured in Bangkok, Thailand and extradited to the US where he was convicted of aiding terrorists. The judge's opinion coincides with ours: “Until DEA went after Bout, he had not committed a crime chargeable in an American court in all his years as an arms dealer. And but for the DEA approach made through this determined sting operation, there is no reason to believe that Bout would have ever committed the charges brought against him.” 3, 4

Merchant of Death DubiMiter – 9.5


1. Mike Eckel. Merchant Of Death. Lord Of War. The McDonald's Of Arms Trafficking: Who Is Viktor Bout?. Radio Free Europe. August 2022. 

2. The Notorious Mr. Bout. Market Road Films. January 2014. 

3. Benjamin Weiser and Colin Moynihan. Conduit to Arms Sting, a Star Witness Apologizes for His Crimes. New York Times. May 2012. 

4. United States of America v. Viktor Bout. International Crimes Database. February 2012. 

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