The United States are “the world’s cancer,” American media is the same as Nazi propaganda, and Vladimir Lenin was right, said Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who was convicted of arms smuggling in New York.
“I expect they will jail me for life, but I’m not going to cry over it. Even in solitary confinement, they failed to take away my freedom,” Bout said in an exclusive interview with RIA Novosti given from his detention facility in New York.
“I won’t be delivering a last word,” Bout said. “I don’t want to turn it all into a show.”
In a four-hour interview, Bout spoke about the alleged American colonization of Africa, his political and religious sympathies, the use of a frying pan as a weapon and even transporting elephants across Africa. He also slammed accusations against him for “unfounded Anglo-Saxon hysterics.”
In November, Bout, 45, was convicted of selling arms to FARC, a leftist guerilla group in Colombia recognized as a terrorist group by the United States. He faces up to life in prison, with sentencing set for March 12.
Russian officials have criticized Bout’s trial, surmising political motives, but he remained careful about whether the Kremlin would save him from a U.S. prison. However, he hinted that Moscow has leverage over Washington, which needs its logistical support for its two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bout’s unproven track record is much more extensive: media, diplomats and rights activists, down to Amnesty International, have accused him of supplying arms to Afghanistan and various African nations, including Congo, Angola, Kenya and Sierra-Leone, often bypassing UN embargoes.
None of the allegations were formally proven in court, but they earned Bout nicknames such as the “Merchant of Death” and “Lord of War” – the latter also the title of a fictionalized account of his career produced in Hollywood in 2005 and starring Nicholas Cage.
Bout, however, is adamant in his dismissal of the “merchant of death” tag.
“I was a hindrance for Americans because I was a real figure in Africa where I was running a business and actually trying to do something,” he said in the interview.
“We were evacuating the injured, saving people, shipping in medicine, hospital equipment and water purification systems. I even had to transport elephants from South Africa to Angola,” Bout said.
Africa is hit by a “second wave of colonization” led by Americans buying land in the region who get free reign internationally because the global balance that was established after World War II is being destroyed, he said.
The prosecution cited in the courtroom recordings Bout’s dealing with FARC where he spoke about his willingness to “kill” Americans. But he dismissed it for small talk.
“In Latin America, any conversation begins with expressing dislike of the United States. This topic is even more popular than football,” Bout said. He added he did not consider FARC a terrorist group.
“Yes, I’m against America, against its expansion, against destruction of nature. America is a cancer on the face of Earth,” Bout said. “But I wasn’t going to travel to Colombia to fight. I’m being persecuted for my opinion, medieval inquisition-style.”
Bout’s extradition and trial were a legal nightmare that spanned several years between his detention in Thailand in a U.S. sting operation in 2008 until his extradition in 2010 and the following trial. This was his first time in the United States, and he did not like it.
“It’s total Goebbels-ian propaganda here, especially in what concerns events in Moscow. The New York Times is worse that the Pravda newspaper,” Bout said in a reference to the notorious mouthpiece of the Communist Party from the Soviet days, whose title became synonymous with state propaganda in Russia.
This winter’s grassroots protests in Russia against the government and the ruling United Russia were instigated from abroad because “in Russia, people vote for order,” Bout said.
He also predicted a “social revolution” to the United States.
“I think the people will wake up from slavery, shake off their chains and destroy Wall Street,” Bout said.
His revolutionary rhetoric was not accidental: he professed sympathy to revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro – “whom America failed to break” – and Che Guevara, and said Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin were right in their critique of capitalism and imperialism.
Bout also admitted admiration of famous Russian writer and humanist Leo Tolstoi and right-wing philosopher Ivan Ilyin, as well as leading religious figures from Christ to Krishna, though he said he does not follow any religion specifically.
But he insisted he never sold arms to any guerilla group – even if he occasionally transported them.
“I never sold any arms, but even if I did, it’s no crime – even a frying pan can be used to kill,” Bout said.
“I had a couple contracts to transport arms from banana republics, but if I didn’t take them, Lufthansa or someone else would have,” said Bout, who ran a legal air transportation company after the Soviet Union’s demise.
“There’s no law to punish the carrier. Someone sold arms and someone bought them – what’s that got to do with those who transport it? And the talks that I’ve been supplying arms from Bulgaria, Romania or Ukraine are unfounded Anglo-Saxon hysterics,” he said.
His anti-capitalist stance conflicts with his image of a successful businessman, but Bout said that he never felt himself a devoted entrepreneur and is actually happy to be stripped of his several constantly ringing mobile phones.
“Business was not my calling, I saw its falsehood. It’s built on cheating. First you run a business, then the business runs you,” Bout said.
“The past 20 years of so-called capitalism have not made us happier in Russia,” Bout added.
He denounced “soulless consumerist ideology” and praised the Soviet Union built by Lenin and Stalin, even while acknowledging that the latter, the most bloody dictator in Russia’s history, went overboard with some of his policies.
“I think Russia has its own way – neither the USSR [model] nor Yeltsin-era disorder,” Bout said in a reference to the turbulent decade of Boris Yeltsin’s rule that followed the demise of Soviet Union in 1991. “If only we could bring back the brains that leaked from Russia, we’d be a superpower.”
In the late 1980s, Bout served in the Soviet Army’s units in Mozambique, where current Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin served as well. This part of Bout’s biography prompted talks of him being a Russian secret service agent with friendly ties to top Kremlin officials, but he denied this in his interview.
“As for friendship… well, you don’t do this to friends,” Bout said, smiling and shrugging in the interview cell.