In a startling development, former arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was traded by the U.S. for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, is making a foray into Russian politics. The 56-year-old has thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), aiming for a seat in the regional legislature. The LDP, a far-right party with 23 of Russia’s 450 legislative seats, leans further right than President Vladimir Putin’s powerful United Russia Party.
Previously known as the “merchant of death,” Bout had been incarcerated in the U.S. after his 2008 arrest in Thailand. His freedom came in December 2022, following a dramatic prisoner exchange for Griner, who had received a nine-year sentence for possessing vape cartridges filled with cannabinoids.
Bout’s release came 15 years short of his 25-year sentence in the U.S. In a parallel narrative, Griner was recently in the news following an unsettling encounter with YouTuber Alex Stein at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Stein hurled provocative questions at Griner, including whether she engaged in sexual relations with Vladimir Putin to secure her release from the Russian prison.
Griner’s security team intervened, leading to Stein’s removal. Reflecting on the incident during a Phoenix Mercury video call, Griner called for the WNBA to provide additional funding for teams to travel on private chartered flights. She labeled the airport harassment as the “rock bottom” moment for the WNBA.