"Ta zhe pesmya, dana novyj lad."
--Old Russian proverb meaning, "The same song, but with a new melody."
"There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is: how do we arm the other 11?" said the gun-running protagonist in the 2005 Nicolas Cage film Lord of War. The filmmakers based that character in part on real-life weapons dealer Viktor Bout, a former Soviet officer turned arms merchant on the black market. But was he just a businessman seeking a quick profit, or is there more to the story? THE NEW AMERICAN has previously reported on Bout's ties to Russian intelligence, as well as his role in simultaneously arming both U.S. forces and its terrorist targets.
Bout was certainly a busy man spreading chaos around the world, and his list of clientele reads like a who's who list of some of the worst scourges on the planet. Senior TNA Editor William Jasper reported that Bout "has fueled the killing fields of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uganda, and Sudan, and run arms to the Philippines, Libya, Afghanistan, Zaire, Kenya, Lebanon, and Iraq."
Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office minister for Europe, had publicly denounced Bout's actions on the international stage for their devastating impact. "The murder and mayhem of UNITA in Angola, the RUF in Sierra Leone and groups in Congo would not have been as terrible without Bout's operations," Hain told reporters.
Bout's business dealings were as deplorable as they were expansive. Inter Press Services (IPS) reports that "Bout was the biggest operator in the African arms market. He ran a myriad of companies employing an estimated 300 people. The companies operated 40 to 60 aircraft, including the world's largest private fleet of Russian-made Antonov cargo planes."
Bout was able to mostly operate freely around much of the world until 2002, when allegations arose that he had helped arm the Taliban in Afghanistan. Ironically, even with such knowledge, the United States still utilized Bout's services for their efforts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New Republic reported that Bout's clients included "the U.S. military and its contractors in Iraq, NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the United Nations in Sudan."
How was Bout able to provide such advanced weaponry all over the world? Even though Bout claims independence, there is good reason to believe he had help from Russian intelligence agencies every step of the way. Douglas Farah, co-author of a book on Bout entitled Merchant of Death, claimed that it "is highly unlikely he could have flown aircraft out of Russia and acquired huge amounts of weapons from Soviet arsenals without the direct protection of Russian intelligence, and, given his background, the GRU (Russia's largest foreign intelligence agency) seems the most likely candidate. He was providing not solely AK-47s and massive amounts of ammunition, as his competitors were, but attack helicopters, anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank mine systems, sniper rifles, and items that are much harder to acquire." Farah also wrote that "Bout, who has armed rebels, criminals and terrorists from the Taliban in Afghanistan to the RUF in Sierra Leone to the FARC in Colombia, has always operated under the protection of Russian military intelligence." (Emphasis added.) It is reasonable to conclude that if the GRU was protecting Bout, as well as supplying him with hard-to-obtain weaponry, then it must have not only condoned his actions but actually sanctioned them.
Bout had very extensive ties dating back years with Russian intelligence that also overlapped with organized crime syndicates of Russian origin. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) interviewed several sources within the black market of weapons smuggling who spoke of Bout's "deep connections" with Ernst Werner Glatt, allegedly one of Washington's favorite gunrunners during the Cold War. …