(Reuters) – Russia’s ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said early on Thursday he had visited Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer jailed in the United States and linked to a possible swap for two U.S. citizens imprisoned by Moscow.
“He really wants to return to his homeland, he yearns for his family, for his mother,” Antonov said in a short video posted by the Russian embassy on the Telegram messaging app.
Variously dubbed “the merchant of death” and “the sanctions buster” for his ability to get around arms embargoes, Bout, 55, is serving a 25 year-prison sentence..
Washington has offered to exchange Bout for Brittney Griner, the U.S. basketball star jailed for nine years in Russia on drugs charges and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said the United States had consular access to Griner since early August.
Russia’s RIA state news agency reported that Antonov said that talks of a possible exchange of prisoners with the United States is going on “between specially trained people and specially trained services,” bypassing the embassy.
Antonov, who spent an uninterrupted 1.5 hours with Bout, also said that Bout was ill some time ago, but not with the coronavirus and that all necessary medical assistance had been provided to him, RIA reported.
“He has no complaints. He really lacks normal communication. He said that he even began to forget some Russian words a bit, because there is no one to talk to,” RIA cited Antonov as saying.
(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)