Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Economist on Victor Bout

This week's The Economist has an article about Victor Bout, AKA the "Merchant of Death" for his alleged involvement in the arms trade in Africa and elsewhere. The plot that led to to the arrest of Bout in Bangkok was a DEA set-up involving a phony shipment of arms to a known "terrorist group" (FARC in Columbia) arranged through an intermediary who was close to Bout. Should Thailand agree to expedite Bout to the US, Russian-US relations could suffer a setback.

The article describes in some detail how Bout was captured in Bangkok after being set up by the DEA.

Summing it all up, the article concludes:
A big question remains. Why did he leave Moscow when he had proven so skilled at sniffing out risks? A comparison worth drawing is with his swashbuckling English equivalent, an old Etonian-turned-SAS-officer-turned-mercenary, Simon Mann, who launched a failed coup plot in Africa in 2004. The middle-aged Mr Mann pushed on with his hare-brained scheme even when he knew that he should have called it off. He was tempted by money and, perhaps more important, by the chance of a last adventure while showing off to his younger wife.
I thought such insight into Bout's psychology interesting.

What was missing in the article, however, was an analysis as to why the United States put so much of its (overstretched) resources into ensnaring Bout who was apparently living in semi-retirement in Moscow. It's not as if he was still as free to operate -- confined as he now was to the Russian capital -- as in the old days when he roamed all over the place.

Jotman reader Sanjuro has translated in its entirety Bout's only major interview in years -- conducted from his jail cell in Bangkok -- for the benefit of Jotman readers. You can read it here.


  1. I agree - this whole adventure is fishy. US certainly has some huge interest in it. perhaps that was their attempt to test Medvedev as a new Russian president? because arrest was amde on March 6th
    (Medvedev was elected President of Russia on 2 March 2008).

    my best guess is - US has started the whole affair for main if not sole purpose of creating a leverage in dealing with Russia. as well as hide some of their own dealings with Bout and of course try to find out whatever intel of Bout's dealings with Russian security services.

    the whole 'elaborate' arrest was a big sham. they were trying to quietly and secretly ship both Bout and his partner to US before they could even be taken to Thai custody. I watched video on Youtube where that other Russian guy (who was arrested along with Bout and later released) provided details, particularly the threats to him by american operatives - 'go straight to airport and back to Russia, do not tell anyone what has happened...'

    US keeps pushing Thais for extradition and claim they have evidence, but so far they couldn't produce ANY, even proper witnesses. what's that nonsense with "witness code number" this or that ? this is bullshit. I don't think Russia can be played like that. it is not some Pakistani, Saudi or Egyptian arrested in other part of the world, shipped to Guantanamo (or any other "offshore" torture prison), held without charges and trials for indefinite period. I am sure Russia still has certain influence, despite that it is no longer a superpower.


  2. 1a,

    I think you identify why this any extradition of Bout to the US is likely to be perceived in Moscow as a serious affront to Russia's status as a major power.

    Certainly, maintaining positive US-Russian relations has got to be a far more important policy objective than punishing Bout. Therefore, I'm at a loss to understand why the US went down this road in the first place.

  3. Jotman

    "positive US-Russian relations" - perhaps you miss the point here of what this phrase means from US point of view: practically dictating Russia what and how to do, pretty much as it was ever since 1990, and as it is mostly US position towards most of the world. whatever obstructs such position of dictate - is considered not as "positive".

    so, if you take this nuance into consideration - then there is no contradiction. ;)

    meanwhile, have you noticed the evident hypocrisy in US' stance towards Israel mass-slaughter in Gaza - especially comparing it with hysterical foul cries of Condi, Cheney and Bush when Russia "invaded" Georgia (aka responded to Georgians' killing Russian peacekeepers and mass-slaughtering S. Ossetians) ! I mean - you have drawn parallels with Panama - why not make similar parallel about US bias in favor of Israel.

    BTW so far I never seen the numbers either by Georgia or by EU or whoever - of Georgians supposedly killed by Russian air-strikes / bombings / "invasion" - perhaps you happen to come across any ? it would be interesting to see that.

    that again reminds me of Gaza war: Israel and US keep saying that it is all HAMAS' fault and rather HAMAS must stop rocketing Israel - not Israel must stop killing Palestinian civilians, incl. kids. but I fail to find ANY numbers - are there any at all ? - of Israelis killed by those HAMAS rockets.
    it is same as back in 2006 in Lebanon: Israel went on rampage for ... 2 Israeli soldiers "missing" - not even killed. in retaliation Israel killed how many of Lebanese civilians, dropping cluster bombs on them ?



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