07 March 2023

Merchant of Death shows off art in Moscow after prisoner swap with basketballer

07 March 2023

A former Russian arms dealer released from a US prison in a swap for basketballer Brittney Griner is showing off his artwork at a Moscow gallery.

Viktor Bout, dubbed the Merchant of Death, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2011, with prosecutors saying he was ready to sell up to 20 million US dollars (£16.9 million) in weapons – including surface-to-air missiles to shoot down American helicopters.

He denied the charges and proclaimed his innocence, saying he was a legitimate entrepreneur who did not sell weapons – while Russian officials cast him as a victim of a nefarious US sting operations and called for his release.

Before Moscow and Washington made a deal to swap him for WNBA star Griner in December, Bout was held in a medium-security facility in Illinois and not scheduled to be freed until 2029.

After his return to Russia, Bout, 56, quickly became a member of the Kremlin-backed Liberal Democratic Party but has dodged questions about a possible political career.

Bout’s art exhibition features a wide gamut of styles and subjects — from portraits of Soviet-era movie stars to warplanes to animals.

Most of his drawings and paintings are done in a realistic manner but there are also some attempts at abstract composition.

The exhibition includes personal objects, photographs and a floor plan of his cell in the US prison.

“When you are surrounded by absolutely grey walls topped by barbed wire and when you don’t see the horizon for a long time, it’s hard,” Bout said on Tuesday at his exhibition.

“The deprivation of such visual stimuli was a challenge for me. Drawing helped me overcome all that.”

Bout said his experience taught him that “life can always change drastically”.

“You must not give up, you must do everything to the end and you must remain faithful to your fate despite any difficulties,” he said.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox