Viktor Bout, the arms dealer the US swapped for Brittney Griner, joins Russian ultranationalist party and could run for parliament
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout returned home last week after a prisoner swap for Brittney Griner.
On Monday he became a member of a far-right, ultranationalist party that backs the war in Ukraine.
Bout's decision was supported by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.
Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer the US swapped for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week, officially joined a far-right, ultranationalist party, which could set him up for a seat in the Russian parliament.
The notorious arms dealer — known as the "Merchant of Death"— received his membership to the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) on Monday, the BBC reported.
In a video posted on Telegram, the leader of the LDPR, Leonid Slutsky, thanked Bout for joining "the best political party in today's Russia," according to The Guardian.
Despite its name, the LDPR adopts a hardline, ultranationalist ideology. Since its founding in 1992, the party has demanded Russia reconquer the countries of the former Soviet Union, according to Reuters. It has backed Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Bout returned home last week after a high-profile prisoner exchange for US basketball star Griner, who had been in Russian custody since February. Griner was found guilty of drug smuggling in early August and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.
Bout has spent the past 12 years in an American jail, after being found guilty of conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.
He was a prominent international arms dealer during the 1990s and is believed to have done business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Angola, Liberia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan.
He was caught and arrested in Thailand in 2008 after a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation.
Bout's new membership of the LDPR means that he could seek a seat in parliament, although the arms dealer told Russian media that he had no immediate plans to participate in "any elections," The Guardian reported.
His entry into politics was applauded by close Putin allies, including Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the founder of the Wagner mercenary group.
"Viktor Bout is not a person, he is an example of firmness," Prigozhin said in a statement posted by his catering company, Concord, according to The Guardian.
"Bout will certainly be good at the head of any existing party and any movement," he added.
The Pentagon, however, has expressed concerns that the convicted arms dealer could return to his old line of business.
"I think there is a concern that he would return to doing the same kind of work that he's done in the past," a senior defense official told journalists last week, Insider previously reported.
In an interview with the Russian state television network RT last week, Bout said he "wholeheartedly" supports Putin's war in Ukraine, adding that he would "certainly go as a volunteer" if he had the chance.
The arms dealer also said he had a picture of Putin in his prison cell, telling RT: "Why not? I'm proud that I'm Russian and that our president is Putin."
Read the original article on Business Insider