Arts & Entertainment

Art by Russian arms dealer jailed in US on display in Moscow

By Fernando Salcines

Moscow, Dec 9 (EFE).- Drawings and paintings created behind bars in the United States by a Russian arms dealer dubbed the “merchant of death” are on display here at Russia’s Civic Chamber as part of an effort to keep the case of Viktor Bout in the public eye.

“We have the opportunity to present the art of a person who has spent more than 13 years in a US prison in difficult conditions and yet, has not been defeated,” Civic Chamber representative Aleksandr Voronov told Efe.

The exhibit, set to run through Sunday, begins with a self-portrait in pencil of Bout, 54, seen through the bars of his cell.

With no formal training, the former Soviet military translator turned to art after being sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell weapons to the FARC, a since-disbanded Colombian guerrilla group labeled by Washington as a terrorist organization.

Among the 24 works selected for the event by the prisoner’s wife, Alla Bout, are rendering of wolves, cats, monkeys and parrots.

Alla Bout has gotten support for her efforts on her husband’s behalf from Maria Butina, who served 15 months in a US prison on charges of being an unregistered Russian agent and now holds a seat in Russia’s parliament.

Viktor Bout founded an air cargo service following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that came to be the cornerstone of a multifaceted enterprise engaged in both licit and illicit business.

He was detained in Thailand in 2008 as the result of a sting operation mounted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and subsequently sent to the US for trial.

Bout continues to protest his innocence and the Russian government contends that the entire process was politically motivated, noting that the federal judge who presided over the trial, Shira Scheindlin, told The New York Times that she considered the mandatory 25-year sentence “excessive and inappropriate.”

During the one face-to-face meeting to date between US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the two leaders discussed the possibility of a prisoner exchange.

Speculation has centered on a swap of Bout for Paul Whelan, a US citizen arrested in Russia three years ago for alleged espionage.

But Bout’s attorney, Alexei Tarasov, said at the start of this week that no progress had been made on an exchange and that he did not expect the issue to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s virtual summit of Biden and Putin. EFE fss/dr

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