Why The Russians Want To Trade Brittney Griner For Viktor Bout

When it comes to two warring political entities, often times there might be prisoners of war captured during conflict. The qualifications for a prisoner of war can vary. As Britannica explains, a prisoner of war can be a civilian, guerrilla, or just any person with military associations. Having a prisoner can be advantageous for a given side, as it gives them potential leverage in any bargaining scenario. However, this depends on whether the powers involved are willing to do a prisoner exchange. 

As the Russian-Ukraine crisis goes on, and as tensions between Russia and the U.S. flare, there are talks of a prisoner exchange possibly happening. The prisoners in question to be exchanged might potentially be WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner and arms dealer Viktor Bout (above), as NBC News reports. There are purported rumors that Russia is actually interested in this trade. But what makes Viktor Bout so special to the Kremlin? 

Who is Viktor Bout?

Many people have been protesting in the United States for the return of Brittney Griner. As Glamour states, Griner has been detained in Russia ever since February, and tensions are high in regard to when she will be able to return to the U.S. Viktor Bout, a Russian prisoner detained in the United States, just might be her ticket to freedom. Bout's nickname is "the Merchant of Death," and for a good reason. The illicit arms dealer is one of the biggest in the world and has sold numerous dangerous weapons to many entities and groups of interest, as NBC News reports, including arms to Colombian rebels which were intended to kill Americans. NBC also cites a report by Amnesty International, alleging that Bout sold weaponry to "sanctioned human rights abusers" such as Angola and Liberia.

Bout was captured and detained by the U.S. government back in 2008 and has remained in prison ever since. As The Washington Post reports, Bout is currently at a medium-security prison in Illinois, serving a 25-year sentence for weapons trafficking and assassination plotting. Bout also served as the inspiration for the 2005 movie "Lord of War" (per Mother Jones in 2007), starring Nicolas Cage. Whether he will be an effective bargaining chip for Griner's return remains unanswered. But what makes him important to Russia?

Viktor Bout might have confidential information about Russian networks

It is difficult to say with absolute certainty what Russia's motives would be for a prisoner exchange. And while many signs point to Bout being of absolute priority for the Kremlin in an exchange, there is still not enough information to say for sure. As NBC News says, Bout's lawyer says that Russia wants to make a deal in exchange for him, but no one will know until a deal is actually made. What could Russia possibly value in Bout? 

For one, being a mega arms dealer like Bout means being privy to all sorts of insider information. NPR reported in 2010 that Bout could potentially have information about various Russian networks, which would be dangerous to leak to political enemies. There might possibly be some fear that Bout could bargain with the U.S. government in exchange for crucial information about the Russian state, weapons manufacturing, and weapons trafficking. Only time will truly tell where this will eventually go. The hope remains that Griner will be released as quickly as possible, regardless of what happens.