Russia may swap convicted spy for ‘merchant of death’ held in US
March 10, 2011 4 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Moscow and Washington may swap a Russian former defense official, convicted for spying for the United States, with notorious Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout, who is being held in a US prison. Andrei Klychev, 49, who worked at Rosatom Russia’s Nuclear Energy State Corporation, was arrested last year on espionage charges. Last week, he was given an 18-year sentence in a closed-door trial, for spying on behalf of the United States. But Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday that Russia is actively considering swapping Klychev with Viktor Bout, history’s most notorious weapons smuggler, whose shady activities inspired the 2005 motion picture Lord of War. Bout, who was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Soviet Tajikistan, served in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) until the dissolution of the USSR, at which point he began supplying weapons to groups ranging from Congolese rebels and Angolan paramilitaries to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In March of 2008, Bout was arrested by the Royal Thai Police, after a tip by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers. The latter had managed to lure Bout to Thailand by pretending to be Colombian FARC arms procurers. Washington later scored a second victory by convincing Thai authorities to extradite Bout to the United States on terrorism charges. However, knowledgeable observers say that Russia is determined to secure Bout’s release one way or another. Interfax quoted an unnamed Russian government source as saying that “currently, the possibility is being considered to swap Andrei Khlychev [...] for one of the Russians imprisoned abroad, possibly Viktor Bout”. Late on Wednesday, a Russian official dismissed the rumors of a possible swap, telling Russia’s RIAN news agency that “until the trial over Bout is over in the United States, the American side will never agree to this swap”. Interestingly, last week a US judge postponed Bout’s trial for a month, setting October 11, 2011, as the new date.