The Russian arms dealer who was freed in a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner late last year has walked back on earlier claims that he would volunteer to fight on the front line in Ukraine.
In an interview on the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda's radio station on Wednesday, Viktor Bout became evasive and irritable when reminded of an earlier statement about his willingness to fight, according to The Daily Beast.
Bout was speaking at length about his pride in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the interviewer cut in to relay a question from a listener, saying: "Let Bout prove his patriotism towards the Motherland by joining Wagner in Soledar," according to The Daily Beast.
The listener went on to ask whether Bout had received an offer to join the troops of the Wagner Group, a mercenary army fighting on Russia's behalf. Earlier this week, Wagner claimed to have captured the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, though independent assessments question the extent of its control.
According to The Daily Beast, Bout said: "No, there were no offers to join. There again, you have to understand where you can be most useful, and which of your skills and knowledge would be handy."
It was a strong about-face from comments Bout made to Russian state TV only a month ago.
Back then, Bout said: "If I could, I would share the skills I have and I would readily volunteer" to fight.
Bout was freed from US prison on December 9, in exchange for the WNBA star Brittney Griner, in a high-profile prisoner swap the Biden administration engineered.
Bout attracted the nickname "The Merchant of Death" due to his prominent arms-dealing operation in the 1990s, as Insider previously reported. Authorities arrested him in a sting operation in 2008, and he was later convicted in the US of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
When freed, he was serving a 25-year prison sentence, most recently at a federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, according to The New York Times.
Bout has loudly backed Russia's military in interviews since his release, and has joined the ultranationalist, pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party, Reuters reported.