9 December 2022 in Dossier Powder Keg Russia, Military


In the opening scene of the 2005 film ‘Lord of War’, Nicolas Cage, dressed impeccably in a war scene, the ground strewn with thousands of machine-gun shells, explains: ‘There are 550 million firearms in circulation in the world, one for every 12 people. My question is: how do we convince the other 11 to arm themselves?” The entire film is the answer – a film whose set design is evidently taken from the biography of the biggest arms dealer of the last 40 years, the Tajik Viktor Bout. A Soviet lieutenant colonel, polyglot and with battle experience in several countries who, upon the implosion of the USSR, becomes a billionaire by smuggling Red Army weapons.

He is famous for his infinite cynicism: for having sacrificed not only his brother’s life for business reasons, but also that of his old barracks comrades. A man known as the ‘minister of death’, whose reputation is based on the fact that he is capable of delivering anything (even an atomic warhead) to any place and under any conditions – as shown in the film’s grandiose scene in which, forced to make an emergency landing, he makes not only the cargo disappear, but also every single piece of the aircraft.

He was arrested, after a long hunt, in Bangkok, on 6 March 2008, and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Washington Supreme Court. A life sentence with parole, which ended on 7 December 2022, because Putin traded his release for that of an American basketball player, detained in Russia on a pretext. A pragmatic choice by President Biden, who needs to increase the consensus of his own disaffected voters, and who have no idea who Viktor Bout is and probably don’t care. It is enough for the young American athlete to go home, smile and thank the government.

Viktor Bout goes home, to work for Putin and his army. His ticket home, I am sure, is not free, not least because, in his career, he has damaged Russian imperialism, because he has sold billions of dollars worth of an arsenal that, at the implosion of the Soviet bureaucracy, no one knew where it was – and was technologically outdated. For irregular militias engaged in a thousand barbaric and bloody wars in Africa, or gangs of Central American bandits, or militias of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, it makes no difference. These are people who shoot at the defenceless, and the machine guns of the 1970s, if kept neat and clean, still carry out massacres.

Bout’s job, from tomorrow, will be to help Putin win the Mexican butchery staged in Ukraine, using his network of contacts to hire Chechen partisans, Caliphate veterans, Serbian militiamen, Boko Haram officers – anyone, as long as they are prepared to shed as much blood as possible among the Ukrainian civilian population. Among other things, Bout has always been able to supply weapons to those on the other side of the lines – guerrillas fit for acts of terrorism and reprisal.

His release is a defeat for peace, for humanity, for all those who care about the lives of the poor people in Ukraine, for the Europeans who, to an increasing extent, are being offered on the sacrificial altar erected by the opposing imperialisms and whom we are unable, due to our cultural weakness, to oppose. Like ostriches, no one in Europe has reacted. As if the liberation of a beast like Viktor Bout is a matter for others.


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