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Russia: Reactions to Arms Smuggler Viktor Bout's Conviction

Many citizen media outlets from around the world have captured the controversy surrounding the November 2, 2011, conviction of a Russian man named Viktor Bout by an American jury.

Arms Control Now, the blog associated with the Washington, DC-based Arms Control Association (ACA), an organization founded in 1971 for the purposes of monitoring the world's most dangerous weapons, announced Mr. Bout's conviction:

After two days of deliberations, a New York jury has convicted Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout on multiple conspiracy charges that could lead to his life imprisonment. Bout was found guilty of conspiring to aid the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group, providing it with surface-to-air missiles, and conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and officials. A Feb. 8 sentencing has been scheduled by the Southern New York U.S. District Court. Bout’s lawyer has indicated that his client will take further legal means to challenge the verdict.

Viktor Bout extradited to the United States aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration plane on Nov. 16, 2010. Photo by Drug Enforcement Administration (in the public domain).

Viktor Bout extradited to the United States aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration plane on Nov. 16, 2010. Photo by Drug Enforcement Administration (in the public domain).


A website created in Mr. Bout's support offers this view on the convicted arms smuggler's identity:

Victor Bout is a Russian businessman who became one of the world’s famous on the basis of fictitious tales and stories which were generated from one source — a corrupt United Nations contractor who was generously paid for the UN contracts he arranged with the help of others for Victor’s companies, and then became mad for vengeance when Victor refused to continue paying him. All you know about Victor Bout is traceable to Johan Peleman’s report, a report that was written as a novel and made Peleman an expert, a hero, and a very wealthy man. […]

At the heart of the controversy is the notion that although Mr. Bout's activities were international in nature, he was tried by an American jury, and therefore his accusers might have had political motives.

Mr. Bout was not initially arrested in the United States but rather in Thailand. Russia opposed his extradition to the United States from Thailand.

Douglas Farah, a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, announced Mr. Bout's extradition in his August 20, 2010, post:

Well, it is a day I had long predicted would never occur, but I have never been happier to be wrong. A Thai appeals court today ruled the Russian weapons merchant Viktor Bout could be extradited to stand trial in the United States. […]

In her October 31 post on CNN.com's Global Public Square blog, Kathi Austin, a former arms trafficking expert for the United Nations, described her perception of the trial itself, which she had witnessed in person:

[…] Viktor Bout’s defense has been built around the notion that he was conning the undercover DEA operatives, posing as the FARC, about a potential arms deal only because he wanted to sell them a couple of airplanes – ones in his fleet that Bout still had parked in the Congo despite the fact these assets should have been frozen under the current UN sanctions regime.

The U.S. called the aviation witnesses in an effort to provide additional corroboration that Bout had the intent and ability to supply arms as in the past. The prosecution has argued that the airplanes were just part and parcel of the entire package deal, as it would typically be for multi-capacity arms dealers like Bout.

On the surface, the positions of the prosecution and defense may appear to be different. But on closer examination, each point to the same conclusion when it comes to the problematic way arms trafficking networks conduct their murky business by air.
In the wrong hands, as Bout exemplifies, aviation can contribute to a diabolical ecosystem destroying many lives when weapons are illicitly delivered. When it comes to tightening arms brokering controls in the future, this sector must be included. […]

On Twitter, Andrew Osborn, a Moscow correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, posted this ominous appraisal of the trial's outcome:

Viktor Bout's conviction will definitely damage the already faltering reset in relations between the US and Russia #russia #bout

Mr. Osborn also mentioned the reactions inside Russia:

In Russia hardcore nationalists like LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky regard Viktor Bout as a wronged innocent of the motherland #russia

The Russian daily Izvestia published an opinion piece by businessman and suspected criminal Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, aka Taiwanchik, who captured a Russian perspective [ru] on Mr. Bout's conviction:

[…] The problem with these kinds of stories is that the United States regularly and harshly blamed our citizens for some incredible crimes, after which it takes a long time to prove one's innocence and clean oneself of negative impact. This means that Americans gain trumps in the political game against Russia, and we have no way to fight it, no recourse. Americans might intervene everywhere, and we, as it turns out, can not adequately respond.

Why can the US authorities arrest a Russian citizen in a third country and extradite him and try him without our intervention? And we do not intervene, because Russia is still in some ways a dependent country. It is difficult for us to utilize strong initiatives to protect our citizens – we want to get into the WTO and to show civilized politics. […]

[…] In this case, time is a doctor. Thanks to our current authorities, the country is growing mightier, and maybe in 5-10 years, in some cases, we'll be able to unzip the fly [on our pants], so to say, and show them.

The publication of Mr. Tokhtakhunov text has surprised and outraged some of the Izvestia readers; below is a selection of their comments [ru].

Elena wrote:

Oh, [Russia has reached a new low] – bandit […] Taiwanchik expresses his “expert opinion.” He unzips his fly – and his mental development becomes obvious right away.

Ilya wrote:

When will this respected publication offer us an expert opinion of another bandit? We, the citizens of the Great Power, are unable to sleep and eat until the thugs teach us how to live.

Lyokha wrote:

We are eagerly awaiting texts by [mobster Aslan Usoyan, aka Grandpa Hassan] and other noteworthy individuals.

Bonzai Aware wrote:

The author of the article features in the film “Thieves by Law,” talking passionately about his career as a thief and about how hard it is to escape [Interpol]. Astra Film 2011 – Thieves by Law – watch it on YouTube. This is definitely someone we shouldn't be defending. We do not need such people.

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