Ukraine update: ‘Merchant of Death’ joins ultranationalist Kremlin party following swap

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has reportedly joined the pro-Kremlin ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LPDR) following his release from a U.S. prison in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week.

Appearing alongside Bout in a video broadcast on Russian television, LPDR leader Leonid Slutsky said, “I want to thank Viktor Anatolievich (Bout) for the decision he has made and welcome him into the ranks of the best political party in today’s Russia,” Reuters reported.

Founded by late far-right political leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LPDR espouses the ideology shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia must reconquer all of the countries that made up the former Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991.

Bout, who earned the moniker “Merchant of Death,” had been serving his fourteenth year of a 25-year prison sentence on charges that he plotted to sell millions of weapons intended to be used against Americans, according to U.S. officials.

Griner had been imprisoned in a Russian women’s prison for 10 months at the time of Friday’s swap with Bout following her detainment at a Moscow airport where authorities said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner pled guilty to illicit drug possession charges and had been sentenced to nine years in a Russian women’s penal colony.

While Griner’s supporters expressed relief at her release, the Biden administration has received a barrage of criticism for the Griner-Bout swap that left U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan behind. Whelan is currently in his fourth year of a 16-year sentence in a Russian labor camp on what the Biden administration and Whelan’s family have called “sham” espionage charges. He was originally included in the talks between the U.S. and Russia leading up to the swap.

National Security Council communications chief John Kirby told “Fox News Sunday” host Shannon Bream that trading Whelan was “never a choice posed by the Russians” and the Biden administration could only broker Griner’s release.

“They treat Paul differently because of these sham espionage charges,” Kirby said on Sunday. “He is put in this special category by the Russians.”

Whelan said in an interview with CNN last week that he was “greatly disappointed” that more wasn’t done to negotiate his release.

Kirby insisted that the Biden administration has worked tirelessly to free both Whelan and Griner.

“Until the very end, we were making efforts to try to get both of them out but there was no way to get there,” he said. “It was either make this deal now and at least get one of them home and keep up the efforts to get Paul home.”

Russian mercenary HQ destroyed

Ukraine struck the headquarters used by Russia’s paramilitary Wagner group in the Kremlin-occupied Luhansk region, its exiled governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian media on Monday, Reuters reported.

Haidai said Kyiv forces struck a hotel complex in the town of Kadiivka said to have housed the Kremlin mercenary group, resulting in a “huge number” of deaths. 

“They had a little pop there, just where Wagner headquarters was located,” Haidai said. “A huge number of those who were there have died,” he said.

Wagner group has long been accused of committing torture and other war crimes in Ukraine and elsewhere. The group was allegedly behind two of three failed assassination attempts on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy early in the war that were reportedly foiled when Russian officials objecting to the war alerted Ukraine to the plots, FISM previously reported.

Russian state media confirmed that a hotel complex in Kadiivka came under artillery fire Sunday. Images appearing to show that the complex had been reduced to rubble were circulated on social media over the weekend. Pro-Kremlin military blogger Alexander Simonov said that “The strike was done by HIMARS” and that “[t]here were members of the Wagner PMC in the building.” The U.S. in recent months has sent the lightweight multiple rocket launchers to Kyiv as part of a series of aid packages, which the Pentagon previously said Ukraine was using successfully.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s general staff reported Monday that Russian forces targeted other portions of Luhansk, along with Donetsk in Ukraine’s east with missile, drone, and artillery strikes.

Russian forces also kept up attacks on the energy system in Kherson.

The general staff said that Russia continues to use civilians as human shields. The update said that troops in the village of Troitske in occupied-Luhansk, they were setting up equipment and firing positions near residential buildings.