Notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who returned to Russia last week after being exchanged for Brittney Griner, has joined an ultranationalist political party and heaped praise on President Vladimir Putin — whose portrait he said he had displayed in his cell during his incarceration.
In a Telegram video posted Monday, Leonid Slutsky, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) welcomed Bout into the ranks of the organization.
“[He is] a courageous man who has become a symbol of a struggle for principles, for spiritual and moral foundations of today’s Russia,” Slutzky said.
Following his arrival in Moscow last week, Bout sat down for an interview with the pro-Kremlin RT News, telling former spy-turned-journalist Maria Butina that he supported Putin and kept the president’s photo in his cell at a medium-security prison in Illinois for the entire duration of his incarceration.
“I am proud that I am a Russian person, and Putin is our president,” Bout told Butina.
Bout also weighed in on the war in Ukraine, telling RT: “I know that we will win.”
Bout, a retired Soviet air force pilot with suspected ties to Russia’s military intelligence service, said he would have volunteered to fight on the frontline if he had the “necessary skills.”
“Why did we not do it earlier?” Bout said, referring to Putin’s decision to invade the neighboring country in February.
Bout, 56, who has been consistently portrayed as a legitimate businessman by Russian state-controlled media, had spent 14 years in US custody following his arrest in Thailand in 2008 on charges that he sold tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons that were to be used to kill Americans.
He was more than a decade into his 25-year prison sentence when he was freed last week and swapped for the WNBA star, who had been in Russian lockup for 10 months on drug charges.
Bout’s decision to become a card-carrying member of the hardline LDPR has ignited speculations that he could be eyeing a parliament seat.
But Bout, once dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” told reporters in Moscow Monday that he had no immediate plans to run in any elections.
His foray into Russian politics was welcomed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and Putin crony who founded the paramilitary organization Wagner Group now operating in Ukraine.
“Viktor Bout is not a man — he’s an ideal of firmness,’ Prigozhin said in a statement released by his catering company. “That is why Bout undoubtedly be good as the head of any existing political party and any movement. And in any case he will command people’s respect.”
Despite its name, the Liberal Democratic Party has since its founding in 1991 espoused a hardline, ultranationalist ideology, demanding Russia reconquer the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Its founder and long-time leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky gained a reputation as a political showman for his outrageous stunts and eccentric behavior before his death in April.
Though seen as a serious contender for power in the 1990s, the LDPR has since assumed a subordinate role in Russia’s political system, providing token opposition to the ruling United Russia bloc while backing the Kremlin on most issues.
It has a history of recruiting controversial personalities into Russian politics. In 2007, Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent wanted in Britain for the murder the previous year of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko was elected to parliament for the LDPR.
Lugovoy touted Bout as a “symbol of [Western] hatred toward Russia” who endured “colossal pressure and overcame every obstacle to return to the Motherland.”
With Post wires