Monday, March 17, 2008

The Game (or Part of It )is Over

Victor Bout, arms dealer without peer, has been arrested and now faces charges in various countries including the U.S. and Russia. How many people have experienced death, maiming, and general suffering may never be known.
According to the Moscow Times he himself alluded to the "game":

"The game is over" were the first words uttered by Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout when he was arrested by Thai police on March 6 after the nearly 10-year "game" came to a dramatic end. It reveals little of the horror and tragedy that his business has caused and says much about the man and his methods.

Since his arrest, hundreds of articles have been written about Bout. What has been missed in the high drama of his capture are the countless victims who have been maimed and killed by the cargo he is accused of delivering to some of Africa's, Asia's and South America's bloodiest conflicts over the past 10 years. Millions of bullets, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s have led to many innocent deaths in embargoed conflict zones. Bout must be tried for these crimes.

Officials from the United States and United Nations say that Bout's list of customers included former dictator Charles Taylor of Liberia, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and both sides in the Angolan civil war.

Blame for not arresting Bout earlier must be equally shared between the United States and Russia. Through Bout, the United States apparently supplied weapons and embargoed goods to unsavory regimes and rebel groups that it supported tacitly but could not fund openly.

For Russia, Bout was a cash cow to be milked. Senior military and intelligence officials effectively gave Bout a carte blanche to operate, and they expected big payoffs in exchange for granting him unfettered access to the cargo planes he used and the open access to the country's Cold War-era weapons arsenals.

Then Bout became a political pawn in a tit-for-tat game between the United States, Britain and Russia. Britain hired Bout's planes, which fulfilled certain British Defense Ministry contracts. Russia blocked a Belgian candidate from becoming the chairman of the UN Panel on Somalia because of his anti-Bout campaign. In addition, although he was living in Moscow and freely gave radio and television interviews, he was never arrested by a Russian law enforcement agency, even after Interpol issued a notice for his arrest. How many lives would have been spared if he had been arrested years ago?"

The "Irish Independent" gives more details:

"The world's most notorious arms dealer was arrested in Thailand yesterday, after fuelling many of the most deadly recent conflicts and running rings around investigators for nearly two decades.

He is variously known as Vadim Aminov, Victor Balukin, Victor Butt, 'The Embargo Buster' and 'The Merchant of Death'. But the real name of the burly 41-year-old Russian is Viktor Bout.

According to Thai police he was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia's FARC rebels''.

He is the subject of an American arrest warrant, and it is likely the US government played a major role in his arrest.

Bout built his extraordinary business empire on elaborate obfuscation, the ability to get anything to anywhere and complete immorality.

Bout was probably born in the Soviet Union in 1967. He trained in the military -- some have suggested in the KGB --and speaks at least six languages fluently.


He cut his first deal aged 25 when the Soviet Union collapsed and he spotted a business opportunity, buying three dilapidated Antonov cargo planes from the air force for around €90,000. He found plenty of buyers in Africa for the huge surplus of weaponry left over by the Soviet army.

By constantly reregistering his ever-growing fleet of planes in different jurisdictions and under different names, he evaded Western intelligence agencies for years.

Among Bout's clients was Charles Taylor, the Liberian dictator now on trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

In their book 'Merchant of Death', American journalists Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun laid bare much of Bout's operation. It was not just guns Bout delivered. He flew frozen chickens from South Africa to Nigeria and Belgian peace keepers to Somalia.

His planes delivered French soldiers to Rwanda after the genocide and United Nations food aid to some of the crises his weapons had helped to create.

In 1997 his planes flew Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of the Congo, to safety as rebels closed in on him. Bout had armed the rebels.

By the end of the 1990s Western intelligence had realised that the common factor in many of Africa's wars was Viktor Bout and his fleet of Antonovs. He retreated to a luxury apartment in Moscow where he was safe from extradition.

In an interview with the New York Times he explained his love of Africa and the life he led on its jungle airstrips.

"In the middle of nowhere you feel alive, you feel part of nature,'' he said. "What I really want to do now is take one of my helicopters to the Russian arctic and make wildlife films for National Geographic.''

The subject of American arrest warrants and a freeze on his assets, he continued to run rings around his pursuers.

After America invaded Iraq in 2003 there was a great demand for airfreight companies. In the confusion, Bout's airlines won contracts. "By the summer,'' wrote Farah and Braun, "Antonovs were roaring into Bagdhad's cratered airport carrying everything from tents and video players to armoured cars and refurbished Kalashnikovs.''

Bout got a contract with Federal Express, the courier company. Before long -- to intense official embarrassment later -- he was carrying equipment for the US air force and army, and personnel and machinery for Halliburton, the American multi-national corporation

Although the weapons Viktor Bout sold killed untold thousands many of his deals were probably not illegal.

"Illegal weapons?'' he once asked, "What does it mean? If rebels control an airport and they give you clearance to land, what's illegal about that?''

Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 film' Lord of War' is generally reckoned to be based on Bout."

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