Has the “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout, been defanged?
Newsweek contacted me last week for comment on whether Viktor Bout, who was traded for basketball player and minor drug offender Brittney Grinder could go back into the arms business.
Bout built his arms trade around his cargo airline, Air Cess, which changed its name to Air Bas in 2001 and operated out of the United Arab Emirates. It is now defunct its planes sold off or seized. Bout ran about 37 different air cargo companies that were either owned by him or suspected of being tied to him. He would operate his aircraft under various company names and change their registration numbers to make their movements harder to track internationally.
The fleet comprised some 30 aircraft mostly of Russian designs by Antanov and Ilyushina that could operate from rough, dirt strip airfields in Africa. At the time of his arrest, he employed 300-400 people. He didn’t just transport illicitly obtained weapons with false End User Certificates, he also owned a legit passenger airline and was even leasing aircraft to Libya and Muammar Qaddafi.
Bout acted as a sort of arms broker. An African dictator like Charles Taylor in Liberia would give him a shopping list and Bout had contacts in Eastern Europe who could obtain the weapons for him. When his business was booming, his arms supermarkets were in Ukraine and Bulgaria mostly. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, both countries were nearly lawless and awash in Russian-made weapons stacked to the roof in warehouses. Bout was the middleman between corrupt generals and politicians in control of these weapons and the dictator. or Marxist revolutionary group on the other end.
But no more, times have changed and he would no longer have access to Russian weaponry in these countries, and Russia needs every weapon it can lay its own hands on right now for its war in Ukraine.
So, what could he do?
Without question, Bout will be on a sanctioned person’s list which not only means he can’t travel outside of Russia easily, but he can’t put money into any bank that does business with the US, including exchanging currency.
To go back into business he’d need to get his planes back and in flying condition. Bout would almost certainly have to operate out of Russia or a country very friendly to Russia, like Iran, North Korea, China or India.
Any western friendly country would consider him radioactive in terms of granting him an entry visa.
While the arms business is not what it used to be, the evading sanctions business is booming, and this is where he might still be useful to Putin and Russia. A Bout-owned cargo airline operating out of the Congo or another loosely regulated country could be used to evade sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. Russia is short of all kinds of things, from microchips to roller bearings to keep freight trains on rails. They are also starved of US Dollars and Euros.
Running an air cargo airline again would allow him to trade Russian goods for dollars internationally. Businesses in Africa or the Mid-East could order car parts that would then end up on Bout’s planes bound for Russia instead. Payment could be made in Vodka or some other export item. Bout built a fortune for himself evading UN sanctions and embargos in Africa, the Mid-East and the Americas. Now it’s Russia under sanctions and embargos and he might help Putin get around them.
Or we might never hear anything about him again. Bout was probably an active member of the GRU(or still under its thumb), after spending more than 10 years in US custody he will be subjected to an extensive debrief by them to find out if he gave up anything to US intelligence. He told Russian state media TASS today that he kept a portrait of Putin in his cell while he was in prison.
He better be very convincing in his denials of cooperation with the US government, or he’ll get a bullet behind the ear without much ceremony.
US Limits HIMARS Targeting Ability to Rule out Strikes Within Russian Territory.
It is being said that the HIMARS artillery rocket system we have given to Ukraine has attained Boogey-Man status among Russian troops who greatly fear its unrelenting accuracy; “Don’t go out there or a HIMARs will hit you” or “Don’t light that fire, it will draw a HIMARS!” goes the warnings.
Ukraine has 20 or so HIMARS launchers which really isn’t enough to cover a war front almost 1,600 miles long. The Wall St Journal broke a story that claims the US has limited the range of HIMARS rockets so they can’t hit targets in Russia.
It wasn’t the rockets though, it was the software in the targeting system. What probably occurred is the networking software the HIMARS uses was “updated” with a lockout on entering any targeting coordinates that would put one of those missiles inside Russia. This has probably been in place for some time, perhaps since the systems were sent over there.
The recent incident where two Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missiles strayed into Poland and killed a couple of people probably prompted the leak of the US limits placed on HIMARS targeting. Ukraine immediately blamed Russia for the missiles hitting Poland as the US press picked up the story and ran with the headline that Russia had attacked Poland and WWIII was about to begin. When he incident occurred we were skeptical and said it was probably errant S-300s missiles that had missed an interception on Russian cruise missiles.
As Ukraine gains ground and gets closer to the Russian border, there is a good chance that more S-300s fired by Ukraine will miss an intercept on a Russian cruise missile and land instead in Russia. Should that happen, the US wants to have immediate deniability that it was a US-made HIMARS rocket.
There could be another reason too. Ukraine has been begging for some time to be given the ATACMS, or Army Tactical Missile System with a range of nearly 200 miles. That 200-mile range would give each HIMARS a much larger area of coverage. Limiting the targeting system to the territory within Ukraine, including occupied areas in Luhansk, Donbas and Crimea would insure that Ukraine isn’t tempted to lob ATACMS missiles into Russia.
Russia Offers to Purge Nazis in Kazakhstan
Russia is finding Nazis everywhere these days, even among their allies. The most recent country to find itself on the Moscow’s short list of countries needing “Special Military Operations” is Kazakstan. This was probably prompted by an incident involving the Ukrainian ambassador to the Central Asian country that is home to Russia’s primary space program facility, the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
In August, Ukraine’s ambassador to Kazakhstan Petr Vrublevsky told an interviewer that Ukrainian armed forces intended to kill as many Russians as possible. While Kazakhstan made a formal protest to Ukraine over this intemperate remark, that was not enough to satisfy the Kremlin. According to the Central Asian news outlet Caravanserai, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Maria Zakharova demanded that Kazakhstan either expel the Ukrainian ambassador or prosecute him for “inciting social, national, tribal, racial, class or religious hatred”.
In Moscow the Kazahk ambassador was summoned and told he must provide a satisfactory explanation as to why Kazakhstan had not carried out Russia’s wishes calling their tepid response “Categorically unacceptable.”
Kazakhstan pushed back, saying it was a sovereign country capable of handling its own affairs and that an ambassador enjoyed diplomatic immunity and could not be arrested on such charges, and certainly not on the order of Moscow. Apparently, Ukraine will be sending a new ambassador to Kazakhstan soon.
Kazakhstan then chided Russia for making demands of them that were not appropriate for a country considered an ally and strategic partner.
Since the war in Ukraine began in February, countries in Central Asia like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have snubbed Russia as its performance on the battlefield shows Russia’s military was not quite as formidable as it seemed.
This was followed by the remarks of the Russian ambassador to Kazakhstan, Borodavkin who stated that: “Nazis, nationalists live in Kazakhstan, we [Russia] will conduct a special military operation” if Kazakhstan doesn’t toe the Kremlin line.
Now Kazakhstan is up in arms over being threatened with invasion by Russia. There are unconfirmed reports that they are moving troops and tanks to their border with Russia.
While Russia calls itself a “Federation” it’s actually an empire with semi-autonomous colonies containing large Russian-speaking populations presumably loyal to Moscow. Kazakhstan finds itself in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between China and Russia with 25% of its population being Russian. The Kremlin allows the countries to have a veneer of independence but when it yanks the leash, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are expected to do as they are told. If the war in Ukraine had to be distilled to a single cause, it would be Ukraine’s attempt to slip off that leash and align itself with Western Europe.
Kazakhstan is a colony of great importance to Russia in terms of natural gas, oil, coal, uranium and other metals like silver and other rare Earth metals and minerals. It is also the location of the Baikonur Cosmodrome where Russia’s space program is based. This giant facility was the launch point of Soyuz rockets that supplied the international space station. Russia announced last year that it was leaving the cooperative ISS program and throwing in on a joint space station program with China.
Russia pays Kazakhstan to lease the facility, but in January when unrest in Kazakhstan threatened the security of the cosmodrome, Russia landed paratroopers and armored vehicles in the capital Almaty to secure it. Russia also intervened in Belarus after a populist revolt, and in a brief war between Armenia and Azerbaijan even as it amassed troops on the border with Ukraine. Russia’s colonies may seek to exploit the apparent weakness of Russian arms and make a clean break while the Russian army is bogged down in Ukraine for the winter.