Russian President Vladimir Putin used an interview he granted to pundit Tucker Carlson this week to spread propaganda about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, criticize the United States and justify his crackdown on independent media coverage of the Kremlin.
The interview also served as a headline-grabbing moment for Carlson, the former cable news host who launched a new show on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after leaving Fox News last year.
Here are five things to know about the Carlson/Putin interview:
Putin got a chance to give his unfiltered views
For much of the more than two-hour long conversation, Carlson gave Putin a platform to offer his musings about the history of relations between Russia and Ukraine while lecturing the commentator and his audience about what Putin says is Russia’s right to take territory from Ukraine.
At one point, Carlson praised Putin’s “encyclopedic knowledge” of the region and offered minimal pushback to Putin’s assertions about the ongoing and bloody war.
“We have every reason to affirm that Ukraine is an artificial state that was shaped at Stalin’s will,” Putin told Carlson.
Once the interview was published, critics around the world quickly pointed out the various falsities and misleading statements Putin gave to the host, which went largely unchecked.
“None of the actual facts of his all-out invasion were presented to him [Putin], including allegations of war crimes in Bucha, Irpin and far beyond,” the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford noted.
During a short introduction before the interview, Carlson told his viewers the Russian president “seemed to us sincere whether you agree with it or not.”
“Vladimir Putin believes that Russia has a historic claim to parts of western Ukraine,” Carlson said. “So our opinion would be to view it in that light as a sincere expression of what he thinks.”
Putin sought to portray confidence about Ukraine
Putin, as he often does in public appearances, cast himself during his sit-down with Carlson as a self-assured and unwavering world leader who is engaged in a righteous war as a matter of self-defense.
“It is very easy when it comes to protecting oneself and one’s family, one’s homeland,” Putin said.
Carlson offered no pushback to Putin’s false claims of self-defense in the region.
Putin did signal he was open to negotiating with the U.S. over the war in Ukraine, saying he has “never refused negotiations.”
“It’s very simple,” Putin continued. “I repeat, we have contacts through various agencies. I will tell you what we are saying on this matter and what we are conveying to the U.S. leadership. If you really want to stop fighting, you need to stop supplying weapons.”
Russian leader pushes anti-US propaganda
Putin repeatedly blasted the United States and its leaders over their pledged financial support for Ukraine and on other matters of international concern.
The Russian president also floated the idea, without giving concrete evidence, that U.S. intelligence agencies are undercutting the Biden administration.
“So, twice you’ve described U.S. presidents making decisions and then being undercut by their agency heads,” Carlson told Putin, setting up a question. “So it sounds like you’re describing a system that’s not run by the people who are elected, in your telling.”
The Russian president also admonished leaders in Congress over their efforts to continue funding Ukraine’s war effort, calling it “a provocation and a cheap provocation at that.”
“This is obvious. Do the United States need this? What for? Thousands of miles away from your national territory. Don’t you have anything better to do? You have issues on the border. Issues with migration, issues with the national debt,” he said.
Putin’s characterization of the U.S. posture toward Ukraine mirrored a sentiment espoused by Carlson and other leading figures on the American right: that the U.S. should stop, or scale back sending money to Ukraine, and focus on domestic issues instead.
Carlson pushed for Wall Street Journal reporter’s release — at end of interview
One of the most notable moments during the sit-down came near the end of the conversation when Carlson asked Putin to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
The U.S. has said Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained amid high tensions with Russia.
“And I just want to ask you directly, without getting into the details of it or your version of what happened, if, as a sign of your decency, you would be willing to release him to us, and we’ll bring him back to the United States,” Carlson asked Putin.
“We have done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency that I think we have run out of them,” Putin responded, before alleging Gershkovich is guilty of espionage and was working as a spy.
Carlson offered some push back on that assertion, saying “He’s a 32-year-old newspaper reporter.”
“I do not rule out that the person you refer to, Mr. Gershkovich, may return to his motherland,” Putin said.
Russian media hyped the interview
A key part of Putin’s never ending propaganda campaign is the steady stream of glowing coverage in state media of the Kremlin and high-profile events Putin participates in like the Carlson interview.
Overnight Thursday, TASS, the Russian news agency, featured the Putin and Carlson interview prominently on its homepage and boasted about the audience it received online.
A separate story published by Russian propaganda outlet RT quoted Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov saying members of the U.S. media are “jealous” Putin had granted an interview to Carlson.
“There are certain divisions along the political lines and serious corporate divisions in the media. The confrontations over who supports which of the two parties are quite strong. So there is a sort of professional jealousy,” Peskov said. “But in time there will be a deep analysis of this interview … The high interest is unquestionable.”
In the U.S., media observers argued Putin used Carlson to his advantage as he looks to win the information battle and affect U.S. foreign policy.
“What you see from watching the first 45 minutes of this, is that this is President Putin’s platform,” Clarissa Ward, CNN’s longtime foreign affairs correspondent, said Thursday while on air.
NBC’s Keir Simmons added Friday that Putin was “allowed to focus on his favorite topics” during the conversation with Carlson, while going largely “unchallenged” and making it clear the Russian president’s “objectives with this interview will have included to influence the conversation in Washington” about his regime and the war he is waging on Ukraine.
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