Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was traded in a high-stakes prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner, claimed in his first interview back home in Russia that he had some traditional Russian words for the American when the two were traded on the tarmac.
“I wished her luck, she even sort of reached out her hand to me,” Bout revealed in an interview with RT, a Russian-controlled media outlet, according to Reuters.
The interview was with RT presenter Maria Butina, a Russian lawmaker who served 14 months in prison in the U.S. for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, according to Reuters.
Bout told RT Butina, that he believed Griner “was positively inclined” toward him, adding that in Russia, it’s tradition to wish everyone good luck, Reuters reported.
“Again, it’s our tradition. You should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” Bout said, according to Reuters.
Part of the prisoner exchange was caught on video and uploaded to social media over the weekend.
“Russian news agency TASS publishes footage of the Brittney Griner/Viktor Bout exchange,” Ian Miles Chong tweeted.
In the video, Bout was accompanied from a plane by an American, according to the Post, and met up with Griner and three men, presumably Russians. As Griner watched, Bout greeted the men with her. Bout appeared to nod and speak to Griner. The video then showed Griner walking off with the American who’d been with Bout while Bout walked off in a different direction with the men who’d been with Griner.
Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” for his prolific arms supply deals with terrorist organizations, revealed much more during his first interview back on home soil, including his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He even kept a portrait of Putin on the wall of his prison cell, he told Butina, according to Reuters.
Bout told Butina that he wished Putin would have started the invasion even sooner, admitting that he’d take up arms in the fight if it were possible.
“If I had the chance and the required skills, I’d join up as a volunteer,” Bout said, according to Reuters.
For her part, Griner was reportedly interested in the crews sent to retrieve her, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said Sunday in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“When she finally got on to the U.S. plane, I said, ‘Brittany, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Carstens said, adding that instead, she went through and shook each crew member’s hand.
“And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” Carstens said.
Another figure receiving national attention in the Griner/Bout prisoner swap is businessman and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in a Russian prison for nearly four years, according to the Washington Post.
Republicans and others have criticized the Biden administration for securing Griner’s release while leaving Whelan behind.
President Joe Biden and the White House have insisted that attempts have been made for Whelan’s release but explained that Whelan couldn’t be brought home the same way Griner was, as Russia is reportedly treating his case differently.
Whelan was convicted in a Russian court on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He has vehemently denied the charges.