“Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout Arrives in the US

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

viktor boutViktor Bout.

Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who inspired the movie “Lord of War,” is set to arrive in the United States around 9:00 p.m. today* after being extradicted from Thailand, where he was arrested in a Drug Enforcement Agency-run sting in 2008.

Mother Jones has been following Bout’s story for years. In 2007, Laura Rozen related the real-life story of the former Soviet military officer who made millions selling weapons to anyone and everyone who could afford them. In March 2008, after the first reports of Bout’s arrest in Thailand, Bruce Falconer reminded readers that the “Merchant of Death” had been among the first to bring supplies into Baghdad after the city fell to invading American armies in 2003. Later that month, Falconer told the full story of the DEA-led sting that captured Bout and brought us to where we are now. That piece was called “Viktor Bout’s Last Deal.” And this August, I worried that the US may have bungled the extradition process. It took a few months, but Thailand and the Obama administration worked things out. 

The successful extradition is sure to anger Russia, which maintains Bout’s innocence. The New York Times‘ Seth Mydans, who’s on the scene in Bangkok, explains: 

Russia quickly called the extradition illegal.

“From a legal perspective, what has occurred cannot have a rational explanation and justification,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout came about as a consequence of unprecedented political pressure exerted by the U.S. on the government and judicial authorities of Thailand. It is deeply regrettable that the Thai authorities succumbed to political pressure from outside and undertook the illegal extradition.”

At first glance, this seems like a straight win for the White House. The Russians weren’t even alerted that Bout was headed to the airport, and America clearly won the tug-of-war in Bangkok. But this is about more than just Bout and Thailand—it has to be understood in the broader context of President Barack Obama’s somewhat stalled efforts to strengthen relations with Moscow. The centerpiece of that effort, the New START nuclear arms treaty, is languishing in the Senate, and Russian hardliners have recently been emboldened by the victories of their Republican counterparts in the US. The decision to extradict Bout—and upset the Russians—may suggest that the Obama administration is beginning to give up hope on New Start and moving to take victories where it can get them. UPDATE: Okay, maybe that was going too far. Obviously, it seems hard to imagine that the Russians would fail to ratify New START just because of Bout. (The Senate still has to move before the Russians.) You can read a lot of different things in these tea leaves: maybe extraditing Bout suggests the administration thinks its relationship with Russia is strong enough to withstand the controversy over one arms dealer. Who knows. 

*Corrected to reflect the fact that Bout is arriving at 9:00 p.m.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate