Lord of war


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Who is Viktor Bout, arms dealer linked to swap for Americans held by Moscow?

In this article:
  • Viktor Bout
    Convicted illegal arms dealer

By Felix Light

LONDON (Reuters) - The life of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer jailed in the United States and linked to a possible swap for two U.S. citizens detained by Moscow, sometimes reads like a far-fetched spy thriller.

Variously dubbed “the merchant of death” and “the sanctions buster” for his ability to get around arms embargoes, Bout, 55, was one of the world’s most wanted men prior to his 2008 arrest on multiple charges related to arms trafficking.

For almost two decades, Bout became the world’s most notorious arms dealer, selling weaponry to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.

His notoriety was such that his life helped inspire a Hollywood film, 2005’s Lord of War, starring Nicholas Cage as Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer loosely based on Bout.

Even so, Bout’s origins remained shrouded in mystery. Biographies generally agree that he was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, then the capital of Soviet Tajikistan, close to the border with Afghanistan.

A gifted linguist, who later used his reported command of English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Persian to build his international arms empire, Bout reportedly attended the Dushanbe Esperanto club as a young boy, becoming fluent in the artificial language.

A stint in the Soviet army followed, where Bout has said he achieved the rank of lieutenant, serving as a military translator including in Angola, a country that would later become central to his business.

Bout’s big breakthrough came in the days after the 1989-91 collapse of the Communist bloc, cashing in on a sudden glut of discarded Soviet era weaponry to fuel a series of fratricidal civil wars in Africa, Asia and beyond.

With the Soviet Union’s vast air fleet disintegrating, Bout was able to acquire a squadron of around 60 old Soviet military aircraft based out of the United Arab Emirates, by which he could supply his products around the world.

BUSINESS OVER POLITICS

A 2007 biography entitled "Merchant of Death: Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible" by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun reported the following details of Bout's shadowy trade.


 

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