Comprehension Exercise – Creative Writing – 155

Comprehension exercise

Creative Writing – 155

The following is an item taken from the Washington Post dated December 9, 2022. Read it and answer the comprehension questions


At the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Ill., in a special unit so restrictive that it has the nickname “Little Guantánamo,” a broad-chested, mustachioed man nicknamed the “merchant of death,” who speaks at least six languages, was serving a 25-year term after building a gun-smuggling empire that spanned the globe.

His name was Viktor Bout. And his native Russia wanted him home, badly. The big question: Why?

On Thursday, Bout was swapped in a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner, the U.S. basketball star detained in Russia since February on drug charges. President Biden commuted Bout’s sentence, a senior U.S. official said.

Griner was accused of entering an airport near Moscow in February with vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage, which is illegal in Russia. Her lawyers said it was prescribed to treat chronic pain and other conditions.
Bout, 55, is the most notorious arms dealer of his time, accused of profiting off weapons that fueled conflict in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

There is little doubt that Bout is a top prize for Russian officials, who protested his treatment since his 2008 arrest in Thailand after a Drug Enforcement Administration sting. Steve Zissou, Bout’s New York-based lawyer, warned in July that “no Americans will be exchanged unless Viktor Bout is sent home.”

What’s less clear, however, is exactly why Russia cares so much about Bout. When CIA Director William J. Burns, at the Aspen Security Forum in July, was asked why Russia wanted Bout, Burns responded: “That’s a good question, because Viktor Bout’s a creep.”

“As I have urged for some time, given the fifteen long years that Viktor Bout has been in custody since the United States government targeted him in 2006, his exchange for Brittney Griner, who has only been in custody for a few months, is fair,” Zissou told The Washington Post Thursday night. “Hopefully, this is just the first of many reasonable agreements between the U.S. and Russia that will lead to better relations and a safer world.”

Bout’s lawyer argued that the swap was fair.
Though Russia complained that Bout was entrapped by the DEA, many U.S. officials and analysts believe that Moscow’s anger was not linked to the merits of the case, but rather Bout’s links to Russian military intelligence.

“It’s clear that he had significant ties to Russian government circles,” said Lee Wolosky, a National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who led early efforts to tackle Bout’s network.

Though less famous than the KGB and its successor the FSB, Russia’s military intelligence agency, commonly known as the GRU, has a reputation for taking bolder and riskier actions. It has been accused in recent years of everything from hacking elections to assassinating dissidents.

Additionally, reports suggest that Bout could have close ties to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister of Russia and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both Sechin and Bout served with the Soviet military in Africa during the 1980s.
Bout has denied any such links to the GRU. He has also said he doesn’t know Sechin.
But that silence could be the point. The arms trafficker refused to cooperate with U.S. authorities, even as he sat for over a decade, isolated and alone, in a cell thousands of miles from his home in Moscow. That silence could be rewarded.

“He kept his cool in prison, never exposed anything to the Americans, as far as I can tell,” said Russian journalist Andrei Soldatov.

Simon Saradzhyan of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs said that Bout could never have operated such a large smuggling business without government protection, but that he never spoke about it. “The Russian government is eager to retrieve him so that it stays that way,” Saradzhyan said.
Freeing Bout would send a message to others who could end up in trouble, said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security, over the summer: “The motherland will not forget you.” — Adam Taylor and Claire Parker


1. What is meant by the word ‘penitentiary’?
2. Break the above paragraph to five or six smaller sentences.
3. Use these words as verb and noun, as indicated:
Span as verb, Swap as noun, Commute as verb with two separate meanings, Sentence as verb, Fuel as verb, Sting as verb, Creep as a noun and as a verb.
4. Who is Brittney Griner? What were the charges against her? How did her lawyers defend her?
5. Who is Viktor Bout? Why is he so infamous?
6. How did Steve Zissou try to strengthen the grounds for Bout’s release?
7. What are the possible reasons for Russia being so anxious to get Bout back?
8. Besides arms smuggling, what are the other bad things Bout was accused of?
9. What is GRU?
10. How did Bout respond to questioning by U.S. officials?

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