MOSCOW, Russia - Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was released as a result of a US swap, arrived in Russia on Thursday, state television said.
"Don't worry, everything is OK, I love you very much," he told his mother Raisa in comments broadcast by state television. He spoke to his family when his plane made a refuelling stop in Russia.
In footage broadcast by state television, Bout was shown boarding a plane during a swap with the United States, a smile seen on his gaunt face.
Aboard the plane, a nurse took his temperature and checked his blood pressure.
He was set to arrive in Moscow shortly.
Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death", was released on Thursday in a prisoner swap in Abu Dhabi involving American basketball star Brittney Griner.
He is expected to receive a hero's welcome at home.
The 55-year-old Bout, who was accused of arming rebels in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts, was arrested in a US sting operation in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the United States and sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison.
Earlier on Thursday, Bout's mother thanked President Vladimir Putin for her son's release.
The release happened "thanks to our president", Raisa said in televised remarks.
"I am so grateful. A low maternal bow to the Russian foreign ministry with Lavrov Sergei Viktorovich at its helm," she said.
She said she was also grateful to "kind people" in the United States, thanking them for having "faith".
"You cannot say that all of them are evil," she added.
His wife Alla said Bout's release was a "true New Year's gift".
She also said Bout planned to open an exhibition of his paintings in Russia's second city Saint Petersburg in April.
The exchange comes as tensions soar between Moscow and Washington over Russia's military assault in Ukraine.
Russia's Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova praised the arms dealer as a "wonderful man who has become a victim of American insinuations".
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the country's diplomats were receiving messages of support from "people in Russia and abroad".
"Incredible!" she said on messaging app Telegram. "They are thanking the country."
© Agence France-Presse