[imagesource: Russian State Media / Twitter]
Russia really one-upped the US with this recent high-profile prisoner exchange.
First of all, Brittney Griner (a US basketball star imprisoned in Russia) and Viktor Bout (from Russia imprisoned in the US) have been accused of ludicrously different crimes.
That means Russia managed to wangle the trade of one convicted arms dealer with many frightening nicknames – the “Merchant of Death”, “Lord of War”, or the “Bill Gates of Arms Dealing” – for a sports star caught with less than a gram of cannabis oil accidentally left in her vapes.
Second of all, the uneven swap, which has been in the works for ages now, happened at the most unlikely of times.
Russia has spent decades seeking Bout’s release at whatever level they can, while the US has spent around nine months trying to get Griner home.
CNN explains that the circumstances and political pressure on both sides reversed the imbalance of the swap:
Griner gained a significance to Americans – based on her claims of innocence and her blatant seizure as a geopolitical pawn on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – that mandated the Biden administration to begin negotiations with the Kremlin at the worst point of US-Russian relations since at least the end of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, Thursday’s prisoner exchange, which took place in Abu Dhabi, sheds rare light on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic priorities within his war with Ukraine:
Bout’s outsized importance to Russia has always been the bigger puzzle. How can one man be so valuable to Moscow they spend decades seeking his release at whatever level they can, and also be just an innocent and unfortunate global pilot and tradesman, as he has claimed? Who is this guy who denies everything?
CNN and The Guardian both unpack the mystery of this lone man, so notorious that he inspired a documentary and a Nicolas Cage movie.
Watch the trailer for The Notorious Mr. Bout and then the movie Lord of War to get an idea of what Bout is capable of:
Rumoured to speak six languages, Bout went on to become of the world’s most wanted men.
He has had numerous international arrest warrants issued against him over the years and the fact that the US had him obviously really grated Russia:
Bout was finally arrested at a luxury hotel in Bangkok in 2008, in a spectacular US sting operation in which undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents posed as rebels from the Colombian group Farc, catching him on camera trying to sell weapons for use against Americans.
Four years later, he was sentenced in a court in New York to 25 years in prison. When the prosecutor said he had agreed to sell weapons to kill Americans, Bout shouted: “It’s a lie! God knows this truth.”
But, because “he seems to be well regarded and well respected in the military intelligence,” according to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist and security services expert, the campaign to have him returned to “the motherland” was immediately in the works.
It is fascinating that the deciding negotiations came during this time of increased political tension, against the backdrop of a war in which the US is basically arming Ukraine, notes the BBC:
A US official said the agreement came together in the past 48 hours; the sticking point appears to have been the two-for-one deal. The Russians made clear Griner was the only option.
…Biden made the “very painful” decision to go ahead and Griner and Bout are reported to have passed each other on the tarmac at the Abu Dhabi airport where the exchange took place.
The moment was shared by Russian state media:
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
This has been reported as a “reminder that there are limits to what the US can achieve and that it had to pay a high price,” while also indicating that the “Russians and Americans do keep up shadowy contacts even though official relations are frozen”.
[imagesource:facebook/thekiffness] A very public spat is developing between South Afric...
[imagesource:instagram] Britney Spears has been keeping her fans nice and worried with ...
[imagesource:knowyourmeme] NHI Bill Vote Delaye...
[imagesource:needpix] Just like how you pack away your woolly knits and fluffy socks an...
[imagesource:befunky] Meghan Markle's life has become quite a cautionary tale for young...