The Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who returned home last week in a prisoner exchange for the American basketball star Brittney Griner, has joined the pro-Kremlin far-right Liberal Democratic party (LDPR), in a move that could see him seek a seat in the Russian parliament.
In a video posted on telegram, LDPR’s leader, Leonid Slutsky, who was standing next to Bout, said: “I want to thank Viktor Anatolievich [Bout] for the decision he has made and welcome him into the ranks of the best political party in today’s Russia.”
Despite its name, the Liberal Democratic party has, since its foundation in 1991, propagandised an ultranationalist and xenophobic ideology, urging Russia to invade the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The party has also served as a springboard for unsavoury characters into Russian politics. In 2007, Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent who is accused by Britain of murdering the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, gained a seat in the Russian Duma for the party.
Bout, whose release has been presented as a major PR win by Moscow, on Monday told Russian media that he had no immediate plans to participate in “any elections”.
Prominent Russian figures close to the Kremlin welcomed Bout’s entry to the LDPR.
“Viktor Bout is not a person, he is an example of firmness,” said Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful Russian businessman and close ally of Vladimir Putin behind the Wagner mercenary group.
“Bout will certainly be good at the head of any existing party and any movement,” Prigozhin added in a statement posted by his catering company, Concord.
The moment he landed in Moscow last week, Bout was on a Kremlin-organised media tour in which he has praised Vladimir Putin and backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
His first interview in Russia was with the state-backed television channel RT and conducted by Maria Butina, who herself spent more than a year in prison in the US for being an unregistered agent of Russia.
“I am proud that I am a Russian person, and our president is Putin,” Bout told Butina, adding that he kept a picture of Putin in his US prison cell.
Commenting on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Bout told RT: “I know that we will win.”
The former Soviet air force pilot, who allegedly has ties to the Russian intelligence services, claimed that he would have volunteered to go to the frontline if he had the “opportunity and necessary skills”.
“Why did we not do it earlier?” Bout said, referring to Putin’s decision to launch the invasion.
Parroting much of Putin’s recent statements that blasted liberalism, he also predicted the end of western civilisation.
“What is happening in the west is simply the suicide of civilisation … And it may be happening in all areas, with drugs and LGBT+ among them,” said Bout.