© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout from Russia is escorted by a member of the special police unit as he arrives at a criminal court in Bangkok October 4, 2010. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
(Reuters) -Viktor Bout, the arms dealer freed in a prisoner swap for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, said he wished her good luck on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi where they were exchanged.
Bout, who spent 14 years in U.S. jail for arms trafficking, money laundering and conspiring to kill Americans, was swapped on Thursday for the basketball star, jailed this year for bringing cannabis vape oil when arriving to play for a Russian team.
Russia’s FSB security service released images of the two being led past each other on the tarmac at the airport in Abu Dhabi during the swap, although the video cuts away as they pass and there was no footage showing them interacting.
“I wished her luck, she even sort of reached out her hand to me,” Bout said on Saturday in an interview with Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT.
“Again, it’s our tradition. You should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” he said, adding that he believed Griner “was positively inclined” towards him.
Speaking to Maria Butina, who herself spent 14 months in U.S. prison for acting as an unregistered Russian agent and is now a lawmaker and RT presenter, Bout praised President Vladimir Putin, whose portrait he said he had hung on his cell wall.
Asked about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, Bout said he wished that Moscow had been able to launch it sooner.
“If I had the chance and the required skills, I’d join up as a volunteer,” he said.
Griner has not yet spoken publicly. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, said on Thursday their family was now “whole,” and the couple would work to help secure the release of other Americans held abroad, including former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, jailed in Russia on spying charges he denies.