Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have lost the confidence of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was freed in exchange for American basketball player Brittney Griner in December.
Bout, who was charged by the United State Department of Justice with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, reversed his previous claim that he would “certainly” volunteer to fight in Ukraine upon his release.
What Bout Said Then
In December, when Bout was first freed, the Russian arms dealer told RT that he would be prepared to assist in the war effort in Ukraine, adding that he “wholeheartedly” supported the war and the Russian president.
“If I could, I would share the skills I have and I would readily volunteer,” Bout said at the time.
CNN also reported that, during Bout’s time in prison, he kept a photograph of President Putin in his cell. Bout told RT about the portrait, explaining his pride in the Russian government.
“Why not? I’m proud that I’m Russian and that our president is Putin,” he said.
Bout’s position on Putin may not have changed, but his latest comments could have interesting implications.
What He Says Now
During an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda Radio on Wednesday, Bout appeared more cautious in his support for the war in Ukraine. Throughout the interview, Bout maintained his support for the war.
“Like any Russian man, a patriot of the Motherland, I support this operation and will do everything in my power to speed up our victory and achieve all of our goals in this operation,” he said.
After stressing the importance of winning the war, and insisting that he would “do something” for his country, Bout was asked by a listener named Vladimir Ivanovich to join Wagner’s private mercenaries and fight in Ukraine.
“Let Bout prove his patriotism towards the Motherland by joining Wagner in Soledar,” the listener said, referencing a town close to the embattled city of Bakhmut.
Bout reportedly appeared stunned by the question, before admitting that he wouldn’t join the fight after all.
“No, there were no offers to join the PMC. There again, you have to understand where you can be most useful, and which of your skills and knowledge would be handy,” Bout said.
The Implications Are Interesting
Bout, a staunch supporter of the Russian president, may have simply been paying lip service when he first said he would join the fight. However, if his original comments were truthful, his apparent U-turn could reflect the state of Russia’s invasion so far.
Amidst a weapons shortage, and with soldiers regularly complaining about the poor conditions on the front lines, Russian forces continue to struggle in Ukraine. At the same time, though, the situation wasn’t much better in December.
If staunch supporters of the war like Bout, who is seasoned in military matters, have no faith in the Russian military at this stage, then how many in the Kremlin quietly think the same?
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.