Convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death” released from prison by President Joe Biden just weeks ago, has already been spotted in a Russian-occupied region of Ukraine, Breitbart reported.
Bout had been imprisoned for 25 years following his conviction for illicitly arming insurgent and terrorist groups worldwide and conspiring to kill Americans.
However, he recently had the remainder of his sentence commuted by President Biden as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was to serve nine years in a Russian penal colony after being convicted of illegally bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country.
Bout travels to Luhansk in occupied Ukraine
CNN reported that Bout, according to Russian state media, paid a visit on Saturday to the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
Bout was in that Ukrainian city to attend an opening ceremony for a center for the pro-Russian nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia alongside that party’s leader, Leonid Slutsky.
Luhansk is part of the broader Donbas region in eastern Ukraine that has been under Russian influence or control since Russian-backed separatists began fighting to break away from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv in 2014, and is one of four currently occupied territories in Ukraine that Russia recently annexed into its Federation following sham referendum elections.
At the ceremony, Bout, who has expressed his support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said he was confident that the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic “would soon be peaceful, and people would live without fear for their future.”
“Returned to Russia”
The Odessa Journal reported that in his remarks at the LDPR ceremony in Luhansk, Bout compared his return to Russia following years of imprisonment to the Luhansk region’s “return” to be part of the Russian homeland again.
“All these eight long years, I have closely followed what is happening in the Donbas,” Bout said. “And you know, your example played a lot for me, helped me, because you are all heroes. Your will, determination, and the fact that you not only survived but also won and returned to Russia — this is very important.”
“So thank you all very much. And you inspired me, which allowed me to return to my homeland, like the entire Donbas, to Russia. Thank you,” he added.
Potential future political leader
The Journal noted that LDPR leader Slutsky also spoke at the ceremony and claimed to party supporters in attendance that he and Bout “nearly came under fire” on their way to the event amid ongoing fighting in the area.
According to CNN, Slutsky further asserted that he and Bout had to change their route multiple times in order to steer clear of the “high-precision weapons” that were “working nearby.”
“But this could not cancel our visit to Luhansk, because this is a point of no return,” he added. “Donbas and Russia are together forever. We will come here under any conditions.”
Breitbart noted that Bout received a “hero’s welcome” upon his return to Russia a couple of weeks ago and formally joined the LDPR as a prospective future leader of the Russian nationalist political party.