Photo: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
You can be sure that the Russian government is keeping a close eye on the New York trial of suspected arms dealer Viktor Bout (aka “Boris”, “Primus”, “the man”, “The Merchant Of Death”) today.The Russian national was caught in a 2008 sting set by the US government, who had long been trying to pin charges on the man suspected of being the biggest arms dealer in the post-Cold War years (click here for more backstory).
Bout’s defence has rested on claims that he knew there was a trap, and he was just selling the US agents (pretending to be members of the Colombian terrorist organisation FARC) a couple of old aeroplanes, as has always been his line of work.
How could he be an arms dealer, his defence has argued, if he lives openly in Moscow?
This is where things get tricky for the Russian state.
Bout is a former Soviet military officer. US Officials claim that his ties to the Russian military complex remain tight — hence how he was able to sell illegal arms with impunity. One witness at trial has described his offices as looking “like security or military offices,” filled with paintings of Russian battle scenes.
These links are “why the Russians have always been so defensive about Bout.”, Alex Vines, a research director at Chatham House, a British international policy organisation, told the AP.
Jury deliberations began today, but it remains to be seen how Russia will respond if Bout is found guilty. Duma members have already written a stern letter to the judge presiding on the case, giving a remarkably clear picture of Bout as a legitimate businessman. Looks like this could be another step backwards for that “reset”.
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