Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer released from US custody in exchange for Brittney Griner, has revealed what he said to the basketball star when the two briefly crossed paths on a tarmac in Abu Dhabi.
“I wished her luck, she even sort of reached out her hand to me,” Mr Bout said on Saturday in an interview with state broadcaster RT.
“You should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” he added, and said he felt Ms Griner “was positively inclined” towards him and seemed to offer her hand.
Elsewhere in the interview, the arms dealer went off on a homophobic rant, praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, and said he would personally fight in the war in Ukraine if he had the chance.
“If I had the chance and the required skills, I’d join up as a volunteer,” he said, according to Reuters.
On Thursday, US and Russian officials carried out the prisoner swap, with the WNBA star being freed from a Russian penal colony, and Mr Bout being released from US custody after 14 years in prison for arms trafficking, money laundering, and conspiring to kill Americans.
On Friday, Ms Griner arrived to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intensive negotiations and I want to thank all the hard-working public servants across my administration, who worked tirelessly to secure her release,” president Biden said, announcing the swap from the White House.
Ms Griner’s incarceration in Russia began in February. The WNBA player competes in Russia during the US off-season, and was found in a Moscow airport with vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil.
Critics have slammed the president for failing to secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia the last four years.
The White House has said it will “never give up” trying to facilitate Mr Whelan’s release.
Mr Bout, a suspected Russian intelligence agent or asset, was known as the “Merchant of Death” for his prolific arms business after the fall of the Soviet Union.
He reportedly supplied both sides of civil wars in Afghanistan and Liberia, and was arrested in Thailand in 2008 in a US sting operation attempting to sell weapons to Colombian militants.