© Russian Federal Security Service/TASS


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?