Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is Russia involved with FARC in Colombia?

Comments by Victor Bout and Russia's complaints in how he is being treated in Thailand after his arrest lead Emptywheel to wonder how the arms to the FARC, the arrest of Victor Bout and the Colombian cross-border attack against the FARC camp in Ecuador are related.

Mother Jones provides a detailed description of the DEA sting that nabbed Victor Bout. The article gives an interesting summary of Bout's career:
FOR SOMEONE SO POLITICALLY connected in so many places, Bout's personal history, all the little pieces that make up the man, has remained the stuff of urban legend. He is variously described as having been born in the Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Ukraine. He is married and has a daughter who lives in Spain, as well as a brother named Sergei in Moscow, also believed to be active in the arms-smuggling business. He is known to hold as many as five passports in various aliases and speaks at least six languages, including Russian, Uzbek, Portuguese, French, English, and perhaps several African dialects. As a young man, his language talents were developed at the Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, a primary recruiting vehicle for the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service. Whether Bout became a GRU officer remains unknown (there is speculation he joined the KGB), but his post-Soviet career bears a striking similarity to one of the GRU's primary Cold War tasks: the provision of weapons to communist movements around the world. Bout, for his part, was unimpressed by Marxist politics, but the basic mechanics of moving large quantities of military equipment to remote locations he might easily have mastered while in the GRU's employ.

After the Soviet Union's implosion, Bout went into business for himself, using his connections to gain access to mountains of former Warsaw Pact weapons and ammunition and buying up the old military cargo aircraft required to move them. There were plenty of paying customers to be served, and in the years that followed, Bout served them all, often working for both sides of a conflict to double his profit. He armed the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia, UNITA in Angola, various Congolese factions, and Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamic group in the Philippines. As recently as 2006, says Farah, the arms dealer was believed to be making shipments to the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and Hezbollah in Lebanon, among many others.
We can hope that more comes out on this story. Something is swimming around in sewers here, and it's as big as the Lake Ness Monster. We may get lucky and learn what it is.

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