Viktor Bout’s conviction: first thoughts

So, arms dealer and get-anything-anywhere shipper Viktor Bout was today found guilt on all four counts of his indictment, that is:

  • conspiracy to kill US nationals;
  • conspiracy to kill US government officers;
  • conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles; and
  • conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Of course Bout and his lawyers will appeal, and they are likely to have the continued support of the Russian government and ‘party of power.’ Voice of Russia has already flatly said that “The evidence against the businessman was quite ridiculous” and no doubt a chorus of similar disapproval will come from Russia, with the LDPR’s Leonid Slutsky dismissing the verdict as “a typical American propaganda ploy.” OK, he’s in the LDPR, but it is worth remembering that he is also first deputy chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Indeed, a collection of deputies in the Russian State Duma sent a letter to Presiding Judge of The Southern District of the Federal Court of New York Shira Scheindlin on October 7 inter alia stating that:

V. Bout’s case, according to his lawyers, is based mostly on non proven facts, speculation, dubious allegations, doubtful evidence and unpersuasive accusations, that have been proclaimed in the media for almost 10 years as the truth. Therefore, the formation of a negative international public opinion about V. Bout has started years before the provocative DEA operation [Relentless], which resulted in his arrest.

They claimed, needless to say, that Bout’s arrest was part of a shadowy plot to abort the ‘reset’ in Russo-American relations.

What is the big picture, though? I doubt it will have a major impact on US-Russian relations, even thought the ‘reset’ hasn’t really taken that much hold. Given that I suspect that Bout had a relationship with the GRU, military intelligence, I wonder if this will be another nail in the coffin of that organization, or at least dead-duck chief Shlyakhturov. If Bout was indeed a sometimes-agent or at least contact for the GRU, then it may also put a crimp in some of their operations.

But what about the global arms market, is that likely to feel the absence of Viktor? He’s certainly a character, but more than that was extremely good at what he did. I doubt his network can survive much more of an absence. There will, of course, be arms dealers – there always will. But they are unlikely to have the same range of connections, organizational capacities, attention to detail and ability to draw on Russian arms stocks as Viktor. So the capacities and efficiency of the global illegal arms market is degraded, if only slightly. But every little helps.

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