Viktor Bout prior to his years in American jail.
Picture: U.S. Office of Justice through Getty Visuals
In September, I spoke with Steve Zissou, a Queens attorney who signifies Viktor Bout, the Russian arms vendor exchanged for WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday. Zissou is an impassioned advocate for Bout, who he thinks has gotten a bad rap in massive portion due to the fact of his notorious nickname, “the service provider of dying.”
When we to start with talked, Zissou was persuaded a prisoner swap would take place. He also appropriately predicted it would appear right after the midterms and that Paul Whelan, another American held in the Russian jail system, would not be integrated if the only outgoing prisoner was Bout. On Friday early morning, I spoke with Zissou once again to get his response to a deal that thrilled a lot of Individuals but that has also drawn its share of critics.
Since we spoke in September, did you have additional indication this swap would come about?
The kicker was when the Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, went to take a look at Viktor in Marion previous month and Viktor came absent reassured. It’s an unusual point to have your consumer who has been sitting in jail for 15 yrs and is in the Guantanamo of the north, and he’s reassuring me although I’m sitting down someplace consuming martinis. The actuality is we realized at some level that reasonable folks prevail. The swap of Viktor for Brittney was a fair a person. Let us don’t forget, Viktor has been in jail extended than the put together jail moments of Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, Griner, and Marc Fogel. You want to get Brittney back again, swap her for Bout. It’s extensive previous time. They could have had it the week following Griner was arrested.
So it sounds like the breakthrough was the Us residents accepting they weren’t also finding Whelan back.
In the conclude, it became President Biden’s willingness to choose the only offer he could to cost-free Brittney Griner. You’re not getting Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout. Whelan was convicted in Russia and is regarded as remaining included in espionage. These are not unreasonable positions to take until you get started with the premise that all People in america are hostages and all Russians are bad. “He’s the merchant of death! Which is the identify we gave him! We can’t trade him for our bad American hostages.” Which is nonsense. That is an American-centric point of check out.
Do you imagine Whelan will continue to come dwelling in a further prisoner exchange?
Absolutely, I do.
When did you listen to this offer was in fact taking place?
Both the Point out Department and the Russian international ministry held quite tightly to this and there truly was no affirmation until eventually late Wednesday evening. That’s comprehensible because until the citizens are on their way, just about anything can materialize.
Have you spoken to Bout?
I spoke to him this morning. He’s again, he’s home, he’s with his household, he’s resting comfortably. He’s doing very well and hoping to figure out what to do with his existence. Which is truly the popular detail for individuals who have been in jail for a extensive time. Now what do we do?
Did he share any thoughts on the complete procedure?
Look, it was private, and I’m not gonna go into any more of it. What Viktor has claimed to me a short while ago is involving him and I. But Viktor’s dwelling. He’s emailing me, “Hey, when are you coming to Moscow?’
Are you gonna go?
I bought COVID. I’ve been testing good for two weeks. But I’ll go ultimately.
Has he at any time expressed any feelings on Brittney Griner’s predicament?
The Bout family has extensive hoped for the release of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner. They have not created a mystery of that. Whelan is a unique challenge simply because no person seriously appreciates the information of his case considering that it’s an espionage case, like 1 of our FISA circumstances.
What will Bout’s daily life be like now? Is he, for absence of a much better phrase, a celebrity in Russia?
He currently was. Russian media adopted his plane from tarmac to landing in Moscow. The Russian persons have extended wanted his return. He’s seen as an instance of American conceitedness and American hypocrisy in international affairs and in globally regulation enforcement. He’s regarded as a hero of the motherland, as anyone who refused to place his possess liberty ahead of his state.
What do you make of the American media’s reaction to Bout’s launch?
I proceed to proper the narrative. There’s a monsoon of items and they are all about the “merchant of dying.” I was up at 4 a.m. correcting folks. I spent three hours emailing reporters. Viktor’s acquired a life ahead of him, and you genuinely want to correct the file. And I know that, for Viktor, it is incredibly complicated to be tarnished with this broad brush.
What do you believe Bout will do now?
You know, Viktor is a deep thinker. He’s deeply into record and antiquity and he enjoys artwork. He’s not gonna make any rash conclusions. He’s not gonna wake up on his initial early morning of independence in Moscow and decide what to do. I feel in the extensive operate he’s gonna like a peaceful existence where he can ideally one particular day have grandchildren. His daughter just obtained married. We skipped him becoming ready to get to the wedding day by just a few weeks, actually. So I feel he’s likely to reconnect with his relatives. And he’s bought to make a living. It’s definitely not going to be something that will get him focus from the policemen of the environment. He’s not going to be returning to the transportation company.
When you listened to Bout’s plane had landed, what was that moment like for you?
I was genuinely ready for that. I got a call from one particular of my contacts who was with him at the airport who allow me know they were being securely on the floor. It was pleasure. And that is when the very first bottle of vodka got opened.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.