Viktor Blout shows his artwork in Moscow

Viktor Bout, a former Russian arms dealer who was released from a US prison in a swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner in December, opened an exhibition of his artworks at a Moscow gallery on Tuesday.

Bout, widely known abroad as the “Merchant of Death,” was convicted in 2011 on terrorism charges with prosecutors saying he was willing to sell up to $20 million in weapons, including surface-to-air missiles to shoot down US helicopters.

He strongly denied the charges and proclaimed his innocence, describing himself as a legitimate businessman who did not sell any weapons. Russian officials have dismissed him as a victim of a sinister US abduction operation and have been demanding his release for years.

When Moscow and Washington agreed to exchange him for Griner in December, Bout was held at a medium-security facility in Marion, Illinois and is not scheduled to be released until 2029.

After his return to Moscow, Bout quickly became a member of the Kremlin-backed Liberal Democratic Party but avoided questions about a possible political career.

The art exhibition at Bout shows a wide range of styles and subjects – from portraits of Soviet-era film stars to warplanes to animals. Most of his drawings and paintings are done in a realistic manner, but there are also some attempts at abstract composition.

The exhibition includes personal items, photographs and a floor plan of his US prison cell.

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