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Convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout to run for election in two Russian regions, may take seat in Federation Council

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Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen previously convicted in the US for arms trafficking and supporting terrorism, who recently returned to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange, is now reportedly seeking elected positions in two regions: the Krasnoyarsk City Council of Deputies and the Ulyanovsk Region Legislative Assembly. Bout will run as a candidate from Russia’s Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR), according to a Telegram post by LDPR Krasnoyarsk branch leader Alexander Gliskov. Bout's participation in the Ulyanovsk regional elections was announced by Yaroslav Nilov, deputy chairman of the LPDR’s Duma faction. Bout himself has not yet confirmed the reports claiming he will run for office in these regions.

Apart from Bout, the list of candidates for the Krasnoyarsk City Council will include Gliskov himself and LDPR leader Leonid Slutsky. In Russian elections, the practice is called “steamroling” – media figures initially lead the election lists, but relinquish their seats to fellow party members after being elected. According to Gliskov himself, the LDPR expects to repeat the success they experienced in 2018, when the LDPR unexpectedly beat United Russia.

If Bout is elected to the Ulyanovsk regional parliament, he may be offered the nomination as a senator from the legislature, says political technologist Ilya Paimushkin. He told the publication Regionalniye Kommentarii (Regional Commentary) that this is clear from the region chosen for Bout’s nomination – according to the political analyst, “intra-elite conflicts are worsening” in Ulyanovsk. Regional governor Alexei Russkikh is a member of the Communist Party (CPRF), while the authorities would prefer United Russia to win the regional legislature election. As a result, the expert suggests that the LDPR can gain more deputies in the region by positioning itself as the “party against everyone.” And Bout could subsequently take a seat in the Federation Council – Russia’s upper house of parliament.

Political consultant Yaroslav Ignatovsky maintains that Bout could draw some of the protest votes in regional elections, but this won't add any points to the LDPR. The expert told Regionalniye Kommentarii that Bout is being positioned as “an outside Russian figure who has suffered in the United States.”

“Clearly, they’ll play the card related to [Russia’s] ill-wishers. It's hard to say what Bout himself will look like in live communication with voters, after all, he’s been deprived of [human contact] for quite some time, although he’s been in Russia for a while. Apparently, he wants to actively take part in political activity. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on this.
The Ulyanovsk Region is traditionally difficult, and the positions of the Communists are strong there. In this sense, Bout will be able to draw some of the protest votes, including those of ‘angry patriots.’ I think that the situation in Krasnoyarsk is more or less the same.”

Following Gliskov's statements in 2021, several candidates were removed from the Krasnoyarsk Region Legislative Assembly elections. As a result, the court invalidated the registration of all candidates from the “Democratic Party of Russia” (DPR) list of 70 candidates, as well as the 13 single-mandate candidates in the regional Legislative Assembly elections, citing “document submission violations.” At the time, Gliskov told Kommersant that the lawsuit against the DPR was filed due to the presence of several “duplicates” on their candidate lists. According to Gliskov, while the Democrats couldn't inflict significant damage on the LDPR, they would “certainly introduce confusion to the voting process.”

At the time, the Democrats put up Alexei Bondarev, an electrician, against Vitaly Bondarev, a Krasnoyarsk City Council deputy from the LDPR, and Nadezhda Avdashkevich, a cook, against Irina Avdoshkevich, a member of the Kansk City Council. There were also other namesakes on the list – Alexei Malinov, a repair mechanic, was nominated against Ivan Malinov, an aide to a regional deputy. In total, the LDPR counted six “duplicates” with similar names running against their candidates.

Earlier, Gliskov had also applied to run in the Krasnoyarsk gubernatorial election, which will be held on September 10.

Viktor Bout was detained in 2008 in Bangkok on a warrant issued by a local court at the request of the United States. He was charged of illegally supplying weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), conspiring to kill Americans, and acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles. Bout was extradited to the United States in 2010. Bout also used several airlines he owned to supply arms to the Angolan government and the rebel group UNITA. Bout was extradited to the US in 2010, and in April 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison and a $15 million fine. In all, Bout spent more than 12 years in prison.

On December 8, 2022, Bout was exchanged for American basketball player Brittney Griner, who was convicted in Russia in early 2022 for alleged “drug smuggling.” Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil that was found in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia Republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.

As a result of the exchange, Bout returned to Russia and Griner to the United States; they were pardoned before their respective exchanges and will not serve the remainder of their sentences in their home countries.

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