Extradite Viktor Bout? Russia counters US pressure.
On Thursday, a Thai prosecutor said Thailand would resist US pressure to extradite Viktor Bout to the US. In August, a Thai court dropped all criminal charges against Bout, widely suspected of being a key player in the shadowy arms-smuggling world.
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But the US has reiterated its call for him to face charges over allegations that he tried to sell an arsenal of Soviet-made weaponry to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Colombia has joined the Obama administration in urging Bout's extradition.
"Just because the cold war is over doesn't mean the competition between military-industrial interests has ended," says Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin deputy of the Russian State Duma. "It's not about ideology, but it is about competing interests. Russia extends official support to Bout because he's a citizen, and because the Russian public doesn't see him as any kind of criminal," he says. "They expect him to be supported."
Russia's Foreign Ministry has assisted Mr. Bout and his family, but has had little to say about the case against him, other than to describe the US charges as "unproven."
Mr. Bout, handed lurid nicknames like "Merchant of Death" and "Lord of War" by Western commentators, was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 after apparently falling for an elaborate sting operation in which agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration posed as representatives of FARC, which is listed as a terrorist group by the US Department of Justice.
Bout, a former Soviet Army translator, is widely suspected of being a key player in the shadowy arms-smuggling conduits through which corrupt Russian officials and military officers sold off Soviet-era arms stockpiles during the 1990s to warring parties in Africa, the former Yugoslavia, and Asia.