Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer freed in the swap for Brittney Griner, said after returning home that his fellow Illinois inmates were “sympathetically inclined” toward Russia. Then he echoed the Kremlin line that America was trying to “destroy us again.”
Mr. Bout spoke in an interview Friday for Russian state television with Maria Butina, the Russian member of Parliament who herself once served a little over a year in U.S. prisons. Ms. Butina, who became a minor celebrity in Russia after her conviction in the United States for operating as an unregistered foreign agent, called Mr. Bout “a small person in big geopolitics.”
The interview was a sign that Mr. Bout, too, could take on high-profile status within Russia after returning home — in his case, 14 years after his arrest. Russian state television covered his late-night arrival at a Moscow airport, with a reporter saying he welcomed Mr. Bout along with “all of us who offered words of support.”
“The West thinks that they didn’t finish us off in 1990, when the Soviet Union started to collapse,” Mr. Bout told Ms. Butina, repeating President Vladimir V. Putin’s talking points and describing himself as a victim. “They think they can destroy us again and divide Russia into many parts.”
But he demurred when Ms. Butina asked whether he experienced any “Russophobia” in federal prison in Marion, Ill. Southern Illinois, he explained, was in America’s “red belt,” suggesting that he saw Republicans as friendlier toward Russia than Democrats.
“I didn’t face such Russophobia from the staff,” Mr. Bout said. “Even almost all my inmate neighbors were mainly, in some way, sympathetically inclined toward Russia.”
Mr. Bout’s longtime status as one of the world’s most wanted arms dealers helped inspire a 2005 film, “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage. Mr. Bout told Ms. Butina that whether the film reflected reality was “probably the most frequent question” he heard in prison.
“If they had come to me and asked, I might have come up with a more interesting story,” Mr. Bout said.