Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was recently freed in a prisoner swap for US basketball star Brittney Griner, has signed up to a far-right pro-Kremlin political party.
The 55-year-old, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”, has joined the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – which has consistently backed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The party has been largely supportive of the Kremlin, despite providing token opposition to the ruling United Russia bloc.
Experts had suggested that Bout could launch a career in politics on his return to Russia.
He was released on Thursday in a prisoner swap after spending 14 years in a US prison for illegal arms dealing.
Russia has, in the past, tended to give public positions to people wanted by the West and it had been suggested he could seek to stand for a seat in the Russian Parliament.
Bout told Russian media on Monday that he had no immediate plans to participate in “any elections”.
Meanwhile, his decision to join politics was backed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful Russian businessman and close ally of Putin.
In a statement posted by his catering company, Concord, he said: “Viktor Bout is not a person, he is an example of firmness.
“Bout will certainly be good at the head of any existing party and any movement.”
Video posted on Telegram today showed Bout joining LDPR leader Leonid Slutsky on stage to announce his party membership.
In the footage, Slutsky tells the crowd: “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 (LDPR) has espoused a hardline, ultranationalist ideology since its founding in 1991.
One of its key demands is for Russia to reconquer the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Its founder and long-time leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who died in April, had gained a reputation as a political showman for his outrageous stunts and eccentric behaviour.
The party has a history of recruiting controversial personalities into Russian politics, including Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent wanted in Britain for the murder of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko.
He was elected to parliament for the LDPR in 2007.
Brittney Griner freed in prisoner swap with Russian ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer
Brittney Griner arrives back in US after prisoner swap with Russian ‘Merchant of Death’ Viktor Bout
For almost two decades, Bout was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weaponry to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Ever since his capture in an elaborate US sting, after which he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the Russian state has been keen to bring him back.
Bout was released by the US on 8 December in a prisoner swap for WNBA star Griner, who was detained in February when customs agents said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
She was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Bout’s release was seen as a major PR win for the Kremlin, while US President Joe Biden welcomed Ms Griner’s return, saying she represented “the best of America”.
He also criticised Russia, saying Ms Griner had been held under “intolerable circumstances” and had been through a “terrible ordeal”.