Putin Used Tucker Carlson to Wipe The Kremlin’s Floor

Nikki Mccann Ramirez / Rolling Stone
Putin Used Tucker Carlson to Wipe The Kremlin’s Floor Tucker Carlson speaks at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15, 2023. (photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP)

In an interview with Tucker Carlson, the Russian president barely broke a sweat, conceded little, and controlled the conversation from its beginning

Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin went exactly how everyone expected, as not so much of an interview, but a demonstration by Putin of the ease with which he could utterly overpower one of the United States’ most prominent media figures.

Carlson opened the interview by directly addressing viewers, stating that he felt Putin was “sincere” in his belief that “Russia has a historic claim” to the portions of Ukraine he wishes to seize through military might.

“Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?” Putin asked Carlson in their very first exchange, after denying that he’d justified his incursion into Ukraine to prevent a “surprise attack” by the U.S. and NATO against allies.

Putin then launched into a 30-minute lecture on Russian and Ukrainian history, starting in 862, through the creation and fall of the Soviet Union, and to the modern era. Carlson stared blankly and nodded along as Putin claimed Ukraine had no independent national identity to justify its sovereignty, a claim historians and Russian propaganda experts have categorically rejected. Carlson halfheartedly attempted to move Putin onto another topic, only to be brushed off by the autocrat who — one must assume — is not particularly receptive to being told what to do.

“It’s not boring; I just don’t know how it’s relevant,” Carlson said.

“Good,” Putin replied, before resuming his oral report.

The exchange was representative of the more than two-hour-long interview as a whole; Putin barely broke a sweat, conceded little when directly questioned, and seemed to control the tone and pace of the conversation from its beginning. He felt so comfortable that he even made fun of Carlson for getting rejected by the CIA before beginning his career in media.

In making his interviewer play by his rules — and in Carlson relinquishing the reigns of the dialogue — Putin used Carlson as the vehicle to ship his carefully crafted state propaganda to American audiences.

The interview continued to center around the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian president reiterated many of the arguments he’s already made regarding his motives for invading their neighbor — with little critical pushback from Carlson.

Putin spoke at length about his wish to bring “de-Nazification” to Ukraine, and while the nation does have a dark history of association with Nazism and neo-Nazi factions, particularly in the context of WWII, experts widely agree this is a propaganda ploy used as justification for the invasion.

Putin at one point told Carlson that the United States had better things to do than help Ukraine fight a war. “Thousands of miles away from your national territory, don’t you have anything better to do?” Putin said. “You have issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt … you have nothing better to do, so you fight in Ukraine?”

It comes as no surprise to anyone who’s watched Carlson’s coverage of Ukraine that the line of argument overlapped almost completely with the former Fox News host’s own view on the matter. Carlson was among the first public advocates to push Republicans to make aid to Ukraine contingent on increased resources for border enforcement.

The overlap is likely why Carlson didn’t respond or engage further with Putin on the question, instead pivoting to questioning the president about who blew up the Nord Stream pipeline.

“You, for sure,” Putin joked.

Carlson countered that he was busy that day.

“You may personally have an alibi, but the CIA has no such alibi,” the Russian president replied, reiterating his claims that the blast that crippled the major natural gas pipeline was likely orchestrated by the U.S. and its NATO allies. Investigations have yet to determine who was behind the sabotage, but in 2022 Carlson publicly hinted at his belief that the U.S. may have been responsible for the pipeline’s destruction. The comments were notable enough that last year, Russian state TV attempted to link Carlson’s firing from Fox News to his coverage of Nord Stream.

Carlson announced on Tuesday that he would be releasing an interview with the Russian autocrat he has long defended. The former Fox News host claimed that English-speaking news outlets are too “corrupt” and “lie” too often to be trusted to accurately portray Russia’s leader — not that Carlson has ever lied to his audience.

The announcement was immediately controversial, in great part because of the ongoing crackdown against journalistic freedom within Russia, including the detainment of foreign reporters by Russian authorities.

One such journalist is Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained by Russian authorities while on assignment in Russia last year. Gershkovich has been held in the notorious Lefortovo prison since March 2023 on trumped-up charges of espionage.

Toward the end of the interview, Carlson finally found his spine, asking Putin about Gershkovich’s imprisonment, and proposing that the president — in a show of his “decency” — release Gershkovich into the custody of Carlson’s team, who would return him to the United States.

“The guy is obviously not a spy, he’s a kid, and maybe he was breaking your law in some way, but he’s not a super-spy and everyone knows that, and he’s being held hostage,” Carlson said.

Putin refused to commit to Gershkovich’s release and maintained the Russian government’s allegations that the reporter had been illegally collecting confidential information constituting espionage. “We’ve done so many gestures of goodwill, out of decency, that I think we’ve run out of them,” Putin said, adding that he would entertain the possibility of Gershkovich’s release when he saw “reciprocal” actions from the U.S.

On Tuesday, Carlson asserted that “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of” Russia since the nation launched its offensive against Ukraine in February 2022. The lie was so blatant that even the Kremlin felt the need to address it.

“Mr. Carlson is not correct,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that they have received “numerous requests for interviews with the president, but mostly, as far as countries in the collective West are concerned, these are from major network media: traditional TV channels and large newspapers.”

CNN chief international anchor Christine Amanpour responded to the claim on X (formerly Twitter). “Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine?” she wrote.

Other prominent journalists echoed the sentiment. “It is most striking to see Carlson justify his interview with Putin and trip to Russia as the work of a journalist at a time when Western journalists are literally sitting in jail for having done nothing wrong other than seeking to report independently in Putin’s Russia, not to mention the many Russian journalists who face imprisonment or exile in the effort to continue their work,” New York Times writer and former Washington Post Moscow Bureau Chief Susan Glasser told CNN.

Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats wrote on X that the situation is “unbelievable,” adding that she — like many other Russian journalists — “have had to go into exile to keep reporting about the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine. The alternative was to go to jail. And now this SoB is teaching us about good journalism, shooting from the $1000 Ritz suite in Moscow.”

According to the Moscow Times, an independent Russian news outlet that was forced to leave the country in 2022 and whose articles are censored within territorial Russia, more than 1,000 independent journalists have been forced to flee the country as Putin’s regime cracks down on freedom of the press.

So how on earth did Carlson land an interview with Putin amidst the Russian government’s full-frontal assault on journalistic freedom? It’s a moment years in the making for the former Fox News host, who across large swaths of his career has acted as the propagandist for Putin — with particular emphasis on the Russia-Ukrainian war.

Carlson has a long history of espousing pro-Russian talking points regarding the war, even going so far as to claim in 2019 that he was actively “[rooting] for Russia” as tensions escalated between the two nations.

Days before Russia launched the invasion, Carlson told Fox News viewers that Americans had no good reason to “hate” Putin, and attempted to link President Joe Biden’s support for Ukraine to unproven allegations that the president accepted millions of dollars from the Ukrainian nationals.

As the war unfolded, Carlson ramped up his pro-Kremlin rhetoric and criticism of support for the Ukrainian government, to the point that his broadcasts were repeatedly lauded by Russian state television. In March 2022, Mother Jones obtained a Kremlin memo that encouraged state-controlled media outlets to “use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally.”

Aside from his track record espousing pro-Russian propaganda, Carlson has established a reputation among autocratic heads of state as a soft interviewer. In his quest to develop a conservative ideological exchange between American conservatives and international right-wing governments, Carlson has given friendly, lauding interviews to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele, and Argentina’s Javier Milei.

In his interviews and coverage of these right-wing political leaders, Carlson often lauds the use of executive power to reshape nations toward conservative principles — regardless of the methods implemented and the cost to civil society and democratic institutions. It’s clear that Carlson’s fascination with these figures reflects his long-professed desires to implement similar transformation within the United States. With Putin now added to his roster, Carlson has solidified his position as the main access point between the propaganda of autocrats and the American public.

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