Tucker Carlson: Putin takes charge as TV host gives free rein to Kremlin

Carlson and Putin interview at the Kremlin on 8 February

Eastern Europe correspondent

Vladimir Putin lectured, joked and occasionally snarled – but not at his host.

Tucker Carlson laughed, listened – and then listened some more.

During the American’s much-hyped encounter with the Russian president, his fixed, fascinated expression slipped a few times.

Especially when Putin’s promise of a 30-second history lesson became a 30-something minute rant.

But for the most part, Carlson seemed to lap up what Russia’s president was telling him.

Putin was fully in charge of this encounter and for large parts of it his interviewer barely got a word in.

Instead of pushing the Russian leader – indicted as a suspected war criminal – on his full-scale invasion of Ukraine and challenging his false assertions, Carlson swerved off-piste to talk God and the Russian soul.

https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.51.0/iframe.htmlMedia caption,

Tucker Carlson interview: Russia-Ukraine ties will eventually heal, says Putin

Journalist Evan Gershkovich

The American had touted his sit-down with Putin as a triumph for free speech, asserting that he was heading where no Western news outlets dared to tread.

That’s untrue. The Kremlin is simply highly selective about who Putin speaks to. It will almost always choose someone who knows neither the country nor the language and so struggles ever to challenge him.

Carlson’s claim also ignored the fact that Russia’s president has spent the past two decades in power systematically stamping out free speech at home.

Most recently, he made it a crime to tell the truth about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Multiple critics – Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin and many more – are in prison right now for doing just that.

gershkovich in court
Image caption,Evan Gershkovich has been held in Russia since last year

It was a full two hours into his interview before the former Fox News anchor asked about the US journalist Evan Gershkovich. He was arrested last year in Russia while doing his job and accused of espionage.

Carlson suggested Vladimir Putin might release the reporter into his custody, providing a trophy to return with from his trip.

What Putin gave was the strongest hint yet of what he wants in return.

He talked about a Russian “patriot” who had “eliminated a bandit” in a European capital, seeming to confirm previous reports that Russia is demanding a prisoner swap with Vadim Krasikov.

The assassin, a suspected Russian intelligence agent, killed a Chechen separatist in a Berlin park in 2019.

Putin claimed negotiations were under way and “an agreement could be reached”.

We already know those complicated talks are not new, involve three countries and likely at least two American prisoners.

Russian history lectures

The whole encounter in the Kremlin opened with a history lecture.

Putin wrote a long essay before the war that denied Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign state. He now appears to have learned it by heart.

He delivered his thesis, eyes burning with conviction, as Carlson’s own burned with boredom and disbelief.

For fans who managed to stay tuned any longer, the reward was a re-run of Putin’s top, twisted arguments.

He aired his regular grievance about Nato expanding east into what Russia sees as its area of influence. “We never agreed Ukraine could join Nato,” as Putin put it.

But it’s having an aggressive, unpredictable neighbour like Russia that’s led Ukraine to seek extra security.

Putin has always characterised the mass public protests in Kyiv a decade ago as part of a Western-backed “coup”, which they were not.

He also called the fighting in the eastern Donbas that Moscow provoked a civil war.

Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson
Image caption,Putin agreed to this chat from a position of relative strength

It’s all part of how Putin justified his full-scale invasion, almost two years ago – along with “de-Nazifying” Ukraine, which he claimed is still a work in progress.

Kyiv fiercely disputes every word of it.

At one point Putin insisted “relations between the two peoples will be rebuilt. They will heal”.

But I’ve met many Ukrainians who spoke Russian before the invasion and often travelled there.

After two years of unprovoked fighting and missile attacks, they’ve switched language in droves and tell me they feel nothing but hatred. https://brewokkiri.com/

It’s just one example of how far Vladimir Putin is from actual facts and reality. Just like in February 2022, when he sent Russian troops rolling on Kyiv thinking they’d be greeted as liberators.

Ukraine peace chances

It seems Putin agreed to this chat from a position of relative strength.

The fighting in Ukraine has stalled. Kyiv’s allies in the West have been dithering over continued military aid, especially the US.

President Zelensky just sacked his commander-in-chief, talking of the need for a reset and renewal in the war effort.

The situation is precarious.

So there was plenty of swagger from Putin about how Russia is “ready for dialogue” and “willing to negotiate”.

He wants to capitalise on any hesitancy among Ukraine’s supporters and any doubts among Ukrainians themselves about going on fighting.

“Sooner or later this will end in agreement,” was Putin’s message, arguing that Nato was coming to realise that defeating Russia on the battlefield would be impossible.

It’s all classic Putin and Tucker Carlson let him roll with it.

Not all interviews need to be combative. There is merit in letting people speak and reveal themselves. But this one took that concept to the extreme.

None of Putin’s statements were challenged in essence.

None of the actual facts of his all-out invasion were presented to him, including allegations of war crimes in Bucha, Irpin and far beyond.

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 06, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine.
Image caption,Evidence of apparent war crimes was discovered following the withdrawal of Russian troops from some areas of Ukraine, including Bucha

Nor did he have to answer for the “high precision missiles” that slam into homes in Ukraine, killing civilians.

The American did not push Putin at all on political repression at home, which includes locking up vocal opponents of the war in jail.

Excitement

The way Carlson was feted in Moscow was extraordinary. There was breathless coverage of his every move from the same TV hosts who usually rail against the West as a mortal enemy.

Like a spurned lover, suddenly given attention, Russia was excited.

And it seems Carlson was moved by his experience, too.

His interview, which included a question about the supernatural, ended with Putin talking about souls.

Both men fell silent for several seconds, before Russia’s leader broke the spell.

“Shall we end here?”

Carlson blinked. “Thank you, Mr President.”

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