Vladimir Putin's top aides are laughing at the United States over the recent prisoner swap that saw WBNA star Brittney Griner being released in exchange for dreaded arms dealer Viktor Bout. And the one who is mocking the United States the most is Maria Butina, the gun-loving, Russian ex-spy-turned-politician.
Butina, who served a prison sentence in the United States, before being deported back to Russia, led the charge in taunting the Biden administration for accepting Moscow's offer as they didn't have any choice. This comes as Griner, who took off from the Abu Dhabi airport on Thursday, finally landed in Florida on Friday and is likely to be reunited with her wife soon.
Mocking White House
Pro-Putin MP Maria Butina was elected to Russia's Duma after completing a jail sentence in the US for operating as an unregistered foreign agent. She led the charge in mocking the United States over the prisoner exchange on Thursday.
"The fact that Russia pushed through the exchange of Bout, whom America fundamentally did not want to give away for many years, right now means that, like in The Godfather, we 'made them an offer that cannot be refused,'" Butina said on the Telegram messaging app Thursday.
"This is a position of strength, comrades," added Butina.
Butina, a former American University student, gained notoriety for attempting to join well-known right-wing organizations, like the National Rifle Association, as part of a Kremlin-sponsored influence campaign before the 2016 presidential election.
She was sentenced to 15 months in a US jail after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges before being released in 2019. She subsequently made her way back to Russia, where in 2021 she was elected to the State Duma.
Butina claimed on Telegram that she was on the other end of that call on Thursday. "Raisa Kuzminichna Bout, Victor's mother, is visiting me in the State Duma. We talked on the phone with Victor," she said. "He is already in Russia and will soon be in Moscow."
"It was brief like a man," she said of Bout's phone call to his mother. "'See you, we'll talk.'"
The controversial exchange of the arms dealer for Griner and former Marine Paul Whalen, another American being held by Moscow, has been floated by the White House, since July, according to reports.
Bout was arrested in Thailand after he was lured there by US DEA operatives acting as Colombian rebels in 2008.
He was finally found guilty by a Manhattan jury in 2011 of conspiring to sell weapons to a designated foreign terrorist group after being extradited to the US in 2010 over Russian objections.
No One to Blame
Shira Scheindlin, the federal judge who had given Bout the obligatory minimum of 25 years in prison, expressed her opinion that he had already received an adequate term when the first reports of the swap surfaced.
Bout's initial release date was set for 2029. Months of negotiations with the Kremlin did not secure the release of Griner nor Whelan.
However, Whelan's name was no longer a part of the agreement when it was formally announced on Thursday.
"We've not forgotten about Paul Whelan. We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul's release," President Biden said.
The swap "was not a choice of which American to bring home," he added.
The controversial swap took place in Abu Dhabi. Russian TV showed Bout in a private jet on the flight to Russia, getting his blood pressure checked, speaking with his family over the phone, and saying, "I love you very much."
According to Tass, Raisa, Bout's mother, praised Putin and the Foreign Ministry for releasing her son. It further stated that he would be given the opportunity to address the Duma's committee on international affairs.
An announcer on the state-run television network Channel One Russia, which is well-liked in Russia, praised Bout as a "legendary figure" who had endured "persecution" and "illegal extradition to the United States."
Online comments from Russian-speakers also tended to celebrate Bout's release, with some hailing him as a 'hero'.
"Finally. He's been sitting in jail for years. Freedom," wrote user said on YouTube.
"Finally the family will be reunited. Congratulations for the return of Viktor. I wrote him a letter in America with words of support. I'm very glad this part of history is over," another user wrote.
"This is such a big win for America, but at the same time a huge fail. Trading a figure like Bout for a basketball player..." read a comment on a sports news site.