Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the US, has returned to his homeland after a prisoner swap involving basketball player Brittney Griner.
He spoke exclusively to RT in his first TV interview. He told about his emotions upon coming back, about the time spent as inmate and shared his views on special military operation in Ukraine and current global situation.
Arming the Taliban
Bout served 12 years in American prisons on arms-trafficking charges that he denies. Despite evading Taliban captivity in the mid-1990s, several American media outlets reported this week that he supplied up to 200 Soviet T-90 tanks to the Afghan Islamists. This claim apparently originated in an anonymously-sourced report by Germany’s Der Spiegel in 2002.
“No, I did not have any relations with the Taliban,” he told RT. “The Taliban put a bounty on my head. How can anyone say I worked with the Taliban?”
Regarding the supposed delivery of tanks to the militants, Bout asked how he could have possibly pulled off “200 flights to Afghanistan” and hammered the US media for not providing any evidence to back up this claim.
“Even Soviet propaganda understood that there are some limits,” he said. “You had to at least say some truths.”
The plea deal
While Bout maintains his innocence, he said that he accepted a plea deal to serve 25 years because “what was one supposed to do?” However, he said that his attempts to switch lawyers before signing the deal were thwarted by his public defender, who misled him into sticking with her and admitting guilt.
“How can you trust this system when it works against you?” he argued.
Bout said that guards would withhold food from troublesome inmates and leave harsh cell lighting on overnight, all in what he called a Nazi-inspired bid to “break a person’s will.” He described the quality of food served to prisoners as “inhuman” and said that he “lost a lot of weight” while incarcerated in the US.
However, the “biggest challenge” he faced behind bars was being granted only a single phone call every month.
The prison population
Bout spent much of his time at the United States Penitentiary, Marion in Illinois in solitary confinement, before he was housed with the general population of the facility from 2016 onwards.
The majority of inmates were African-American and Hispanic, Bout told RT. He added that “mostly my fellow inmates were sympathetic towards Russia. Or at least if they knew nothing about it, they would ask me questions.”
Bout passed the time by reading and learning several foreign languages, but recalled that drug use was rife among his fellow prisoners. “If it happens in a prison, just imagine what is happening out there on the street,” he said.
Bout told RT that he sees the sanctions placed against him by the US as an “experiment,” and a warning to his fellow Russians. As such he was not surprised when the West responded to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine with economic penalties.
Viktor Bout: Back home from imprisonment | RT exclusive
“I fully support the special military operation,” he stated, arguing that Russia should have sent its troops into Donbass in 2014.
“If I could, I would share the skills I have and I would readily volunteer,” he declared.
When Bout learned of Griner’s arrest on television, he recalled that an inmate approached him and told him “this is your ticket back home.” While the businessman said that he didn’t get his hopes up, the two would meet on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi on Thursday during the exchange.
An American revolution?
Asked whether he’d prefer to see Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the White House, Bout compared the two to “Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi,” adding that Russians “pay too much attention to US politics.”
“I don’t believe they’ll have a revolution in the United States,” he said, referring to political division in the country. Bout elaborated, arguing that excessive drug use is making young Americans too passive “to do anything,” while Washington ruthlessly punishes dissent, as it did when it jailed the Trump supporters who protested against Biden’s electoral victory on Capitol Hill last January.