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The Russian arms dealer freed from US custody as part of a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner has denied he is of any significance to the Russian government.

Speaking to Russian state news outlet RT on Friday, Viktor Bout, 56, said he does not believe he was exchanged for the Olympic medalist because he is especially valuable to the Kremlin, as he suggested both the United States and Russia benefitted equally from the exchange.

‘To consider why they exchanged me now — it’s unhelpful,’ Bout said. ‘They exchanged me and that’s that.

‘I don’t think that I am important to Russian politics,’ he continued. ‘We just don’t leave our people behind.’

The interview comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is willing to conduct other prisoner exchanges with the United States in the future following Bout’s release — which many saw as a victory for the Kremlin.

Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, denied he is of any significance to the Russian government in an interview with Russian state media. He is pictured with his wife

Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, denied he is of any significance to the Russian government in an interview with Russian state media. He is pictured with his wife

Bout, who was convicted of selling weapons to a Columbian drug cartel, was freed as part of a prisoner exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner

Bout, who was convicted of selling weapons to a Columbian drug cartel, was freed as part of a prisoner exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, is seen here on her way back to the United States on Friday after being detained for 10 months

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, is seen here on her way back to the United States on Friday after being detained for 10 months

Bout, who has been dubbed the ‘Merchant of Death,’ was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and was convicted three years later for conspiring to kill Americans by selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, a narco-terror group in Columbia.  

He has also been tied with trying to sell arms to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and was a former intelligence officer in the Soviet Union.

The Russian government has since been pressuring the United States to set Bout — who has been called the Merchant of Death — free.

But Bout has repeatedly claimed to be a legitimate businessman, and has denied having anything to do with the Kremlin.

He told RT correspondent Maria Butina, who was also imprisoned in an American jail for acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the 2016 election, that there were ‘probably thousands and thousands and thousands of cases like his,’ and he was simply caught up in the gears of geopolitics.

Bout was  arrested in 2008 in Thailand and was convicted three years later for conspiring to kill Americans by selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, a narco-terror group in Columbia

Bout was  arrested in 2008 in Thailand and was convicted three years later for conspiring to kill Americans by selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, a narco-terror group in Columbia

Bout also spoke about his experience serving time in an American prison, denying that he was a victim of ‘Russophobia,’ which he attributed in part for the prison’s location in what he called the ‘red belt.’

The so-called Merchant of Death was incarcerated for more than a decade at a medium-security prison in Marion, Illinois.

‘Mostly my fellow inmates were sympathetic towards Russia, or at least, if they knew nothing about it, they would ask me questions.’

And when asked to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the prison exchange — which saw former United States Marine Paul Whelan left behind — Bout denied that the Biden administration was weak.

‘I am certain that our leadership does not think in those terms, whether you are weak or not,’ he told Butina. ‘Real strength does not require expression on such a, frankly, cheap level.’

‘I believe the deal happened because some common ground was found that allowed both sides to be satisfied,’ he said, noting that he was glad to be home and spending time with his wife, Alla.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hinted he is open to more prisoner swaps with the U.S. after exchanging WNBA star Brittney Griner for 'Merchant of Death' arms dealer Viktor Bout

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hinted he is open to more prisoner swaps with the U.S. after exchanging WNBA star Brittney Griner for ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer Viktor Bout

Paul Whelan, pictured, has been held at a Russian penal colony since December 2018, when he was arrested on a trip to Moscow. He is pictured here awaiting his verdict in June 2020 as he railed against the Russian judicial system

Paul Whelan, pictured, has been held at a Russian penal colony since December 2018, when he was arrested on a trip to Moscow. He is pictured here awaiting his verdict in June 2020 as he railed against the Russian judicial system

Pentagon officials are said to have raised concerns about freeing Bout, saying he could return to dealing arms now that is back in his home country, while Republicans have said the deal means that Americans could be detained abroad simply so adversaries can engage in a prisoner swap. 

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The deal was also widely mocked in Russia, with residents there claiming they got the better end of the deal.

Among those who celebrated the news was Butina, the RT news correspondent who is now working in Russia’s Duma.

‘The fact that Russia pushed through the exchange of Bout, whom America fundamentally did not want to give away for many years, right now means that, like in The Godfather, we ‘made them an offer that cannot be refused,” Butina boasted in Russian on her Telegram channel. 

‘This is a position of strength, comrades,’ added Butina, who was deported back to Russia in 2019 after serving an 18-month sentence in the US.

Authorities had claimed she was acting on Kremlin orders to insert herself into United States politics as she began attending NRA meetings and other conservative events in 2014, while remaining close to Russian official Alexander Torshin.

In one of thousands of Twitter direct messages 60 Minutes obtained, she wrote to Torshin: ‘We made our bet. I am following our game.’ 

Torshin replied: ‘…This is the battle for the future. It cannot be lost… patience and cold blood…’ 

A week later, Butina writes to Torshin: ‘…Only incognito! Right now everything has to be quiet and careful.’ 

When 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl asked Butina about that exchange, she said, ‘Let me take you back to 2016…around the election time. Do you remember at that time how American media treated Russia? Everything was toxic. 

‘Tell me that there is no racism here against the Russians. Oh, please. It is.’ 

She went on to claim: ‘I never sought to influence your policies… I wanted to learn from the United States and make Russia better.’ 

Butina insisted her involvement with the NRA was a natural extension of a gun rights movement she started in Russia. 

When she returned home in 2019, Butina said: ‘Russians never surrender.’

She served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to a federal charges, and returned to Moscow in 2019

She served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to a federal charges, and returned to Moscow in 2019

Now, Russian president Vladimir Putin says he is open to conducting more prisoner swaps with the United States in the future.

‘We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,’ Putin said after Bout arrived home to a hero’s welcome in Moscow and Griner touched down in San Antonio, Texas, in the early hours of Friday morning.

Putin said ‘everything is on the table’ and pointed to ‘compromises’ found in the past.

‘This is the result of negotiations and the search for compromises. In this case, compromises were found and we aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,’ Putin told reporters during a press conference in Kyrgyzstan on Friday morning.

A senior White House official also told CNN on Friday they believe Moscow will keep negotiating a deal over Whelan because there are ‘things they want in this world. 

‘We have shown an openness to talk about that which is actually available to us and gotten only in response a demand for something not available to us,’ the official added. 

President Joe Biden has insisted that he has not forgotten about Whelan and vowed to continue to work to bring him home

President Joe Biden has insisted that he has not forgotten about Whelan and vowed to continue to work to bring him home

The US president is seen here embracing Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner's wife, as he announced that the Phoenix Mercury center was en-route back to the US

The US president is seen here embracing Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, as he announced that the Phoenix Mercury center was en-route back to the US

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Joe Biden has said he will continue to fight to bring Paul Whelan home.

He said from the White House on Thursday that the administration remains ‘in close touch’ with Whelan’s family and commiserated with their ‘mixed emotions’ over Griner’s homecoming.

‘We’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release – I guarantee that. I say that to the family. I guarantee you,’ the president said.

‘I urge Russia to do the same, to ensure Paul’s health and humane treatment are maintained until we can bring him home. 

‘I don’t want any Americans to sit wrongfully detained one extra day if we can bring that person home.’

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