Arms dealer swapped for Griner to contest Russian local election

A Russian arms dealer freed in a prisoner swap for United States basketball star Brittney Griner has been chosen as the candidate of a far-right party for a seat in a Russian regional legislature, according to state news agency RIA, Aljazeera reports.

Viktor Bout, once dubbed “The merchant of death,” served 10 years of a 25-year sentence in US prisons on arms dealing charges until his release last December under the exchange with Griner, an Olympic gold medalist.

RIA cited an official in the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia’s (LDPR) local organization as saying that Bout had been nominated as a candidate for the legislative assembly of the Ulyanovsk region in central Russia.

Bout was arrested by US agents during a sting in Thailand in 2008.

The US Department of Justice described him as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, charges Bout has always denied.

Griner was sentenced in 2022 in Russia to nine years in a penal colony for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil – which is banned in Russia – after a judicial process Washington labeled as a sham. Griner has since resumed her sports career.

Bout publicly joined the LDPR following his return to Russia. Despite its name, the LDPR holds far-right, ultra-nationalist views and strongly supports President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The LDPR has previously provided a home to Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted in the United Kingdom for the 2006 murder of ex-KGB officer and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Lugovoi has served as an LDPR member of Russia’s national parliament since 2007.

Litvinenko died after drinking tea poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope.