Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A 'Bout' of Russian terror

The Washington Times – Ed Royce

April 1, 2008

Maybe Viktor Bout got complacent. Accustomed to profiting in the world's roughest places while brazenly defying law enforcement, this notorious gun runner fell three weeks ago, arrested by Thai authorities in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting in Bangkok. An arms smuggling conviction would put this very dangerous man out of business. He is a survivor, though, and we should not breathe easy until an extradited and shackled Mr. Bout hits United States soil.

A former Soviet pilot dubbed the "Merchant of Death," Mr. Bout has fueled many brutal civil wars, mainly with former East Bloc state arsenals. In the 1990s, he dealt weapons to the several sides fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo and rebels in Angola, breaking international arms embargoes. Some have linked him to the Rwandan genocide. One good customer was the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, who relied on Mr. Bout to arm his reign of terror in West Africa, which landed Taylor in The Hague to face war crimes charges.

This man has plagued four continents. He simultaneously armed the Taliban and the Northern Alliance; he had dealings with Hezbollah and the FARC in Colombia. Indeed, Mr. Bout thought he was negotiating a deal to provide the FARC with millions of dollars in arms when he was arrested. The deal included 100 advanced Russian-made shoulder-fired missiles, capable of downing an aircraft. Federal prosecutors in New York are seeking his extradition to stand trial for providing material support to this Colombian terrorist organization.

Viktor Bout is the model. Unfortunately there exists a class of rogues: gray-area figures who help destroy states and the rule of law while avoiding scrutiny. He and other smugglers are not small-timers. Mr. Bout has amassed a logistical capability that rivals many NATO countries, operating dozens of planes. Today the paramount concern is that his type of global delivery system might transport a nuclear weapon. Their credo is anything for money. The arrest of this man, the best known of the lot, hopefully signals a new alertness to the dangers poised by these networks.

The United States and others have spent much to build stability in Africa. We have been successful in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Millions of lives have been saved by ending these brutal conflicts. But stability is very fragile; all it takes is a few dozen rebels armed by the likes of Viktor Bout to enflame a rebuilding country. Taking on the Bouts of the world would better protect these investments.

Extradition experts give Mr. Bout only a fifty percent chance of facing justice in the United states, though. Thai police have said Mr. Bout's extradition would have to wait until he was tried in Thailand. Meanwhile, the Russian government reportedly is pressuring Thai authorities to set him free. For years, he has operated out of Moscow, in the open, despite an Interpol arrest warrant. He has ties to Russian intelligence. Beware of Russian promises to "try" Mr. Bout at home.

The diplomatic instinct in the State Department may be to play nice with Russia, especially since the Bush administration seeks a long-term agreement on U.S.-Russian relations. Recommendations to press Moscow on Mr. Bout years ago reportedly were set aside to win its cooperation in the war on terrorism. But this man is a terrorist. And there is nothing to be gained from acquiescing to yet another Russian effort at undermining the rule of law. We should be doing all we can to counter any Russian pressure on Bangkok. The arrest of Viktor Bout may signal an intolerance of an intolerable type of character. With a deadly past and dangerous future, he must face justice. Thai authorities should be commended for their cooperation, but only when Mr. Bout is securely on his way to our shores, which given likely Russian machinations, can't happen fast enough.

Representative Ed Royce. California Republican, is ranking member of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee.

1 comment:

Group Leader said...

Mr. Bout could never have built his empire without KGB/FSB support in Moscow. The U.S. authorities ought to do the utmost to eliminate any possibility of extraditing Bout to Russia. Once he is in Moscow all ties to Bout's partners, superiors and subordinates will go cold and the U.S. will miss out on this unique opportunity to materially harm international terrorism.

FertiKola, U.S.-Russia Business Consulting
FertiKola, U.S.-Russia Business Consulting