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Why Russia defends a 'merchant of death'

By Jackson Diehl

International criminals with ties to the Russian government are accustomed to enjoying impunity. A couple even sit in the parliament despite being charged by foreign police with murder. So it's not surprising that the extradition from Thailand to the United States Tuesday of Viktor Bout, a notorious arms trafficker known as the "merchant of death," has prompted loud cries of outrage from Moscow.

"Extreme unjustice," fumed Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Said the Foreign Ministry: "There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of V.A. Bout came as a consequence of unprecedented political pressure" from the United States.

You'd think that the Obama administration had kidnapped a national hero. So it's worth recalling just who Moscow is defending. Bout, a 43-year-old former Russian army translator, has for two decades supplied weapons or cash to rogue regimes and terrorist movements around the world -- including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He has fueled massive bloodshed in Africa, flying weapons into places like the Congo, Liberia, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

He was finally caught in Bangkok in March 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Agency Administration lured him there in a sting operation. Bout thought he was there to meet representatives of Colombia's FARC terrorist movement; he was tape recorded offering to sell missiles that he said could destroy U.S. drug surveillance aircraft.

After Bout's arrest Russia spared no effort to get him out of jail and prevent his extradition. Discounted oil was reportedly offered to the Thai government. Moscow not-so-subtly threatened both Thailand and the United States with retaliation if Bout were extradited. Even the "reset" of relations between the Obama administration and the regime of Vladimir Putin was said to be at risk.

Imagine Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton righteously denouncing the "injustice" of the arrest by a democratic country of a U.S. mafia kingpin or drug trafficker. Most countries stick to "quiet diplomacy" when trying to rescue their rogues -- when they try at all. Yet Putin's regime seems to have no scruples about publicly campaigning for Bout.

Moscow's motive is not merely the defense of a Russian citizen. Experts like Douglas Farah, a former Post reporter who co-authored a book about Bout, think Russia's elite are terrified of what Bout might reveal as a part of a plea bargain with U.S. prosecutors. Where did he obtain the weapons and helicopters he has been delivering to war zones, or the Russian-made transport aircraft that carried them? Did he deliver Russian weapons to Hezbollah? And who encouraged him to do business with the FARC? The guerrilla movement has been backed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who in turn is one of the biggest customers of the Russian arms industry.

All good questions that Putin does not want Bout to answer.

To be sure, the "merchant of death" may have embarrassing information about the U.S. government. His companies reportedly were hired as subcontractors by the Pentagon to deliver weapons to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. But it is the U.S. government, after all, that is prosecuting Bout -- presumably it is ready to deal with his revelations. For Russia, on the other hand, Bout's trial could offer a rare example of the application of the rule of law to one of the country's state-sponsored outlaws. Let's hope it's a precedent.

By Jackson Diehl  | November 16, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Russia itself has enjoyed impunity. It claimed that the group of espionage suspects including Anna Chapman were innocent, but now admits their guilt, and now its government has announced its intention to conspire to murder a former Russian general on foreign soil, even U.S. soil. It invaded Georgia under a false pretext of attacks on ethnic Russians there, after the murder of Georgian police officers forced Georgia to enter the Russian enclave.

The United States should be treating Russia as what it clearly is: an enemy nation. It is a tragedy that they have used money from natural gas exports to build up their military so that regime change is not an option.

Posted by: quadibloc | November 16, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Why go through all the travails of hunting down a Russian scapegoat in Bangkok ? Merchants of death can be picked off the street anytime. Saves the travel expenses and is much more rewarding. America's arms dealers are the top criminals on the planet.

Posted by: ratl | November 16, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Mr. Bout will disclose a list of names, including nation of origin, of his competitors in this nasty business. You can bet he is not alone, and also that some of those names will be found to be embarrassing for more than just the Russians.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | November 16, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

israel is one of the world's largest arms merchants who have sold US provided weaponry to our enemies, including China.

I wonder what Mr Bout will have to say about that? That's if we ever hear it.

Posted by: rcubedkc | November 16, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that 3/4 of the previous comments seem disappointed that someone who sold arms to some of the most disgusting groups on the planet was brought to heel. Most people would welcome this news. But apparently for those whose world views consider the USA or Israel to be the source of all evil, any evidence to the contrary is to be dismissed or discounted. Apparently for them war crimes are not an absolute concept, but dependent upon who the perpetrators are.

Posted by: robert17 | November 16, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Selling weapons in and of itself is not a war crime.

Nice try though.

Posted by: rcubedkc | November 16, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Surely You jest. Our President was just on a major Arms selling trip to India and wrapped up a tidy little deal there. Just 3 wks. ago We announced a 63Billion deal with Saudi Arabia and the Arms selling King of the World is also sending another 3 bill to Israel. This is a bit like the pot calling the kettle Black. What the hel- makes Us any different than any other Arms Merchant? Does it not bother Reporters like You that what Your accusing others of doing, We also do but on a much larger scale? Are You not aware that the US accounts for over 65% of all World Arms Sales and yes We dump them into the tinderboxes of World Conflicts? This Guy wouldn't make a raindrop in the Ocean compared to Our sales of Weaponry.

Posted by: mnlennon | November 16, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I arrive at the same conclusion as Farah.

Except I think Russia has one more concern.

And that is if Viktor sold nuclear warheads ? what position that that leave Russia in short of a NATO invasion.

Viktor is NOT going to plea.

I'm sure plenty of people who have worked with Viktor can not afford to have him Plea.

This will be interesting. No DOJ WPP for you Viktor !

Imagine if Viktor is sent to GITMO.

Now, normally, you hear someone who wasn't a hardened criminal goes into prison can comes out with all kinds of tips and tricks of the trade.

Imagine this on a scale at GITMO with a guy who CAN get you a nuclear warhead- As a businessman I think Viktor probably offered decent discounts for quantity orders.

All in all, he's not doing anything the US hasn't been doing.

If anything I'd say Viktor has more integrity than MANY at DoD who have brokered contracts for their friends to get billion dollar contracts.

Check out the movie The Ghost Writer - it's not far from the truth.

Also check out Lord of War - a movie Nicholas Cage is in to which he modeled his character from Viktor.

One of the best lines of the top arms dealer was when Nicholas Cage approaches him and goes "Wow, you sold to Iraq and you sold to Iran, I mean you sold to both sides" the man replies "Did it ever occur to you I want both sides to lose"?

Viktor certainly is a threat to criminals ?

But is Viktor a criminal ?

In my book ? He merely followed lock stock and barrel in step with the US Department of Defense and it's contracting and sales.

Did you see US is offering Israel some new Jet fighters if it will lay off it's settlement building ?

I recall when Dick Cheney back in early 1990's was over in Saudi Arabia selling the Saudi's 54 F-15's.

He sold to the legal limit to sell, so President Bush said - uncap the limit and
Cheney sold sold an sold some more.

Cheney was a great arms dealer in the middle east.

VERY profitable.

Wow, could you imagine i he ever became in a position of power such as President or Vice President ? Just imagine the business, er, War Crimes, er, business...

He's probably gonna have a heart attack when he hears I've placed him in the exact same boat as Viktor.

This is all fact.

Now, back to Viktor...

Viktor is a threat to anyone he's dealt with so long as he's in DOJ custody, DOJ knows this, Viktor knows this and the people he's sold weapons to know this.

I hope DOJ can protect him.

There are governments, people and organizations that can NOT afford to have him crack.

He won't of course. I wish I could say I know so, but he'd never crack.

So if US DOJ isn't going to get anything out of him ? I guess they'll seek sentencing and well ? Lights out for Viktor once he goes to any Federal Prison, no way can the drug cartels, foreign governments and others afford to have him in custody. No way. Some cartel will just blow up the entire prison- probably with a shoulder missile Viktor sold them.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing DOJ wants him for one reason right now and one reason only.

Who did you sell nuclear warheads to.

I think it would be GRAND if Viktor sold Israel nuclear warheads- for so did the United States.

Now it would be a question of - hey - BOTH sold the SAME thing to the SAME Customer, so why is one a criminal and the other ? to be commended.

From the Israeli's optic it would be a challenge.

I think US DOJ will try and present their best interests that US needs to know from a security perspective and then return him to Russia.

The way to win the war on terror is through education, not bombs and bullets. We've seen enough of this and we all know we're just waiting to see things escalate to nuclear.

Human beings are not inherently evil.

Viktor hasn't acted any differently than the US CIA.

I know it, you know it, we all know it, Viktor knows it, DOJ knows it.

So, they MUST really have a pressing question for him.

I wager his extradition wasn't to be sentenced and tried in US courts to which Russia may think, I think DOJ and DOS just wants to know who he sold nuclear warheads to, and they'll send him on his way.

I am not so sure, he may say on the nukes, he may not.

Anything else is off the table you'd think, no WAY Viktor will break, he'll offer, but he won't break IMHO.

Never heard of the guy until today.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Obambi will whimp out. The whole reset farce with these thugs is shameful.

Odumbo seems to like to do business with Chicago-like thugs the most. The pathetic part is that Barry gets NOTHING in return.

Giving up missle defence, dozens of spies, etc. and we get NADA. Seems Barry didn't learn much on the mean streets of Chicago.

Posted by: beecheery | November 16, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Cheney selling arms in the middle east puts an image in my mind.

A parent loading up a child with guns on their belt, few grenades on a strap over the shoulder, helmets, placing them in a massive military tank and then shoving them out the front door yelling:

"Remember, play nice and Have a nice day at school- I love you!"

US Department of State just announced FINALLY yesterday that US did in fact train Usama Bin Laden, people just keep spelling it wrong ! She didn't mention he was trained under the name Tim Osman. However to quote Head of State Ms. Clinton (who I do admire ever since I saw her speech on volunteerism, it was one of those moments that changes ones trajectory in life, changed mine)

From article: (Odd, I don't see this news on the WAPO - US admits they trained Usama Bin Laden ? That's big news if you ask me)

Ms. Clinton accepted that the U.S. had created certain radical outfits and supported terrorists like Osama bin Laden to fight against the erstwhile Soviet Union, but that backing has boomeranged. “Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created. We created the Mujahidin force against the Soviet Union (in Afghanistan). We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama bin Laden. And it didn’t work out so well for us,” she said.

“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.
“Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.

Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created.

ALL respect to Head of State.

I wish she'd run with Obama, then after VP? Run for President in 2016 and 2020.

I'd vote for her.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

By the way -

My two cents ? IF DOJ wants to get an answer from Viktor ?



Now, we spend how many billions in Afghanistan to prevent an unknown - unplanned, non existing attack on the US ?

I'd say 100 million CASH to Viktor to the Caymans or a Swiss account ? Will get you WHO bought what when and where, AND you offer him WPP.

Just ask yourself - how much money - especially in context to how much money we've blown - would it be worth to learn of who bought what nuclear warheads.

I'd think that information would be priceless.

I say we take the 800,000 Fat as a Hen paychecks to the useless Homeland wannabee but couldn't get into the FBI employees (don't get me wrong, I have ALL the respect in the world for the FBI, almost ZERO respect for Homeland- it's a SCAR on the psyche of any US Citizen or child- FBI was working JUST FINE Homeland, we don't need 800,000 questionable people mucking things up with incompetence)- and we take that ENTIRE salary base and offer it up to Viktor to give up the information Homeland could never get, even if they wired his watch, his phone, his car, his house, his TEETH.

Money will get the answer with Viktor, interrogation won't.

That's all Viktor is interested in - you have to understand the mindset.

Let's go back to Poindexter and the Iran Contra affair shall we ?

And Ollie North - now now - where did he go- oh that's right, he didn't get put in prison, he got a job on Fox News and now provokes anti-sentiment over at making sure to provoke future terror responses to justify more arms sales !

But - how is Viktor any different from Ollie ?

I'll tell you how

Viktor has integrity and will face the laws, crimes and sentencing if need be.

North ? is above the law - and would never be convicted. I loved Ollie's response - let me see if I can recall "I can't validate that I can or can't recollect".

Damn - that sounds like a $800 an hour attorney to me.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Come on DOJ and DoD

We're paying the warlords in Afghanistan for safe transport of US troops.

Why not pay Viktor.

I don't see any ethics problem here.

You spend some money that can just be printed anyway, and you get to learn who has the nuclear warheads that became available after Reagan helped the Soviet Union to collapse so quickly and fail to safely unwind without global systemic risk which has led you to why you have to bring Viktor in in the first place.

Yeah, I'll use my intellect to say it's all Reagan's fault !

Lately I've taken a new view on Rove.

That 9.11 may have been provoked by Rove.

Rove created a sense that the US was moving to a Christian theocracy when he harnessed Timothy La Haye to rally up the bible belt and vote for Bush

They may have taken it too far:

You WOULD think this would be from the far reaches of Afghanistan or something:

"Jesus Camp Extract Praise Bush"

My latest thoughts have been whether the Islamic theocracies or the wannabee Islamic theocracies, I mean, The Taliban REALLY wants Afghanistan to be an Islamic theocracy ? Looked at this in the US and said - HOLY,er wrong word "JESUS CHRIST.." wait - wrong word..

Usama Bin Laden may have said, So, the US wants to become a formal Christian theocracy, let's send them a welcome card to let them know how religious theocratic nation states play- enter 9.11 WTC/Pentagon and third target.

So, Rove used the Christians for the abortion vote - come on, Bush promised 8 billion to the religious extremists and ponied up less than 80 million - that's LESS than 1%, CLEARLY Bush didn't give a damn - and I'll credit him on that - about the religious fundamentalists in the US, short of the vote to get him in, and KEEP him in.

I argue the Islamic right saw this and said - well well well- an emerging Christian theocracy, if they want to drape their flag over a cross, let us remind them we won't tolerate it.

Hey - I'm JUST speculating. I loathe religious extremists and nation state extremists- both have to deal with how you derive your persona, your identity, and both are equally misleading and dangerous in a world with nuclear warheads if you ask me.

I'll BE FAIR to Rovers- I don't think he did it intentionally, but he exploited the election by making it about religion, or religious values.

I don't even want to TOUCH this facade of the Christian right called the Tea Party wanting to restore Proper Christian values to America - the Palin's Bachman's O'Donell's - they are more dangerous than USama Bin Laden to me - for at least Islam doesn't have one grand final play - End Times.

Strangely ? Tim La Haye ? who DID get Bushes bible belt vote ? now openly states it is the end of the world and it's coming any day now ! JESUS CHRIST - THIS is what you get without EDUCATION.

RELIGIOUS NUTCASES seeking office of the Presidency who will have access to the nuclear launch codes.

I'm going to go lose a pound !

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm broke - unemployed- I DID find a nice senior software engineer position in town today- but it was a homeland contractor.

They advertised "We specialize in mining data, from internet chat to emails"

I withdrew my application - I can't even find a job delivering pizzas

Can always donate - FIRST time I've promoted this and I think I'll tag all my comments with this...

I'm broke and unemployed (possibly unemployable heh)- you can always donate at

Actually, when you do, heh, you will get kicked a serial authentication code for some software I wrote - but I'm flat out just asking for a donation.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 16, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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