Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who was returned to Russia in a prisoner swap for U.S. citizen Brittney Griner, praised his country’s invasion of Ukraine and said it should have happened earlier, according to state television.
During an interview on Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT), Bout said, “any Russian person” should approve of Russia’s “special military operation” and that he would have joined the fighting if he was able.
“To be honest, I couldn’t even understand why we did not do it earlier,” he said Saturday on RT. “Why in 2014, you know, there were demonstrations in Kharkiv, people were carrying enormous tricolors and shouting, ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ in Donbas and Odesa, as well, you know!”
He added: “Yes, clearly the conditions were not right and we were not ready, but I would have supported it wholeheartedly.”
Bout later told host Maria Butina that if he “had the opportunity and necessary skills” he “would have gone” joined the fighting as a volunteer. According to the Ukraine government, approximately 94,000 Russian troops have been killed in the fighting, as of Dec. 11.
The Russian losses include nearly 6,000 armored personnel vehicles, nearly 3,000 tanks, and nearly 2,000 artillery systems.
During the same interview, Bout said Western countries, including the U.S., were seeking to “destroy” and “divide” Russia.
“The West believes that they did not finish us off in 1990, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate… They think that they can just destroy us again and divide Russia,” he said, according to the Moscow Times.
As for Griner, Bout said he “wished her luck” following their prisoner swap in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Dec. 9. Both were returned to their respective countries within 24 hours.
“Again, it’s our tradition. You should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” he added, per Reuters.
The Russian, who is dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” was previously convicted of arms trafficking, conspiring to kill Americans, and money laundering.
Griner was convicted by a Russian court of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in Russia, where cannabis is banned.