Russian Arms Dealer Who Inspired Nicolas Cage Movie Could Help Free Brittney Griner
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A Russian arms dealer who once inspired a Nicholas Cage film could help free American basketball player Brittney Griner after she was detained in Moscow.
Released in 2005, Cage fans may know Lord of War to simply be one of the actor's many titles; one which received pretty average reviews following its release and therefore not one of his most memorable.
However, the film is actually loosely based on the story of Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who is alleged to have worked with clients such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor and former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to supply weapons for civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.
Bout has denied the claims and insisted he didn't sell weapons, but in 2011 he was convicted on terrorism charges. He is being held in the United States on a 25-year sentence, but has received a lot of support from high-level Russian officials in the years since he was arrested.
Speculation that he could now be returned to Russia comes following the arrest of Griner in February 2022, when Russian police claimed they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage as she travelled to the country to play basketball.
The athlete was later charged with intentionally importing narcotics into the country, and on 7 July she pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling, though she claimed she had no intention of committing a crime.
Griner's detention had been authorised until 20 December, but speculation by Russian media suggests she could be 'swapped' in return for Bout.
Shira A. Scheindlin, the former New York City federal judge who sentenced Bout in the US, told Time they would not be against such an exchange, saying: "He’s done enough time for what he did in this case."
As well as being exchanged for Griner, it's speculated Bout could also help free former marine Paul Whelan, who is also being held in Moscow.
Russia’s human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has previously made clear that the country is working on plans for Bout's return, saying last month: "We very much hope that our compatriot Viktor Bout will return to his homeland.”
The commissioner said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ministry of Justice were working together to see if a transfer could be organised for Bout to carry out the rest of his sentence in Russia, saying: "We are also constantly in dialogue in order to find a compromise in resolving this issue,” she said.
With no exchange having yet been confirmed, Bout is currently set to remain in prison until August 2029.
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