There have been no winners in Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview

In introducing his interview with Vladimir Putin, Tucker Carlson does us the courtesy of foreshadowing the whole trade’s shaky relationship with the reality. Standing exterior in Moscow within the gently falling snow, Carlson notes that the interview passed off within the constructing behind him, saying it was “after all, the Kremlin”. But the constructing he gestures to shouldn’t be the Kremlin; as others have famous, it’s the State Historic Constructing.

The 2-hour interview that adopted, Putin’s first with Western media since he launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, was equally misleading. In response to Carlson’s very first query, on why Putin was apprehensive a few Nato assault on Russia simply previous to his invasion of Ukraine, the president scornfully asks, “Are we having a chat present or a severe dialogue?” (Tucker’s braying laughter in response is David Brent-ishly unhinged.) 

Putin then asks for “30 seconds or one minute” to provide “slightly historic background” – a lie – and we’re off. What follows is sort of half an hour of the president tumbling down the rabbit gap of revanchist historical past, starting within the ninth century and increasing on Russia’s historic declare to territory in Ukraine, and winding by means of centuries of obscure justifications for his invasion. Carlson doesn’t push again on any of this. (He notes in his introduction that he and his staff weren’t happy with the detour and “discovered it annoying”; throughout the interview itself Carlson sycophantically tells Putin the historical past lesson is “not boring!”.)

This historic rewriting is not new. Lots of watchers of the interview, which was posted on Carlson’s web site and on Twitter, absolutely skipped forward to broader discussions in regards to the current day. There they have been rewarded with Putin’s ideas on AI, the Roman empire and particular person American conservative heavyweights. Whereas Putin gives faint reward of Elon Musk (“I feel there’s no stopping Elon Musk… I feel he’s a wise individual, I really consider he’s”), George W Bush (“I do know that in america he was portrayed as some form of a rustic boy who doesn’t perceive a lot. I guarantee you that’s not the case”) and Donald Trump (“I had such a private relationship with Trump”), he goes out of his method to needle Carlson. He refers to Carlson’s “fundamental schooling in historical past”. At one level, when discussing the CIA (which Putin says is liable for sabotaging the Nord Stream pipeline), the president mentions that he is aware of that Carlson as soon as utilized to hitch the organisation and was rejected. “We must always thank god they didn’t allow you to in,” Putin says. “Though it’s a severe organisation, I perceive.”

As Lionel Barber, the previous editor of the Monetary Occasions who interviewed Putin in 2019 – the final Westerner to take action earlier than Carlson – instructed me forward of the interview, Putin is “a grasp of destabilisation”, a ability he makes positive to wield in opposition to journalists. Was Carlson destabilised? Powerful to say; Carlson, who way back perfected his on-air expression of squinty-eyed disbelief, usually appeared merely confused by Putin’s looping responses. 

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But what was a departure from lots of the Russian president’s previous interviews – and what many Kremlin watchers will likely be notably concerned about – was his place on the West. Whereas beforehand he has made a degree to decry its “decadence” and focus on its accelerating decline, right here Putin was much less antagonistic, extra impartial. “Western society,” he says merely, “is extra pragmatic” than Russian society, which he says has allowed it to “obtain good success in manufacturing, even in science, and so forth”.

So how does Putin envision the conflict ending? An settlement with the West. “We’re prepared for this dialogue,” he says, claiming Russia has been prepared for a while. When requested about earlier makes an attempt to barter a peace deal, in spring 2022, Putin blames Boris Johnson for blocking an settlement by persuading Kyiv to maintain combating. Johnson was motivated, Putin says, “due to vanity, due to a pure coronary heart, however not due to an ideal thoughts”. Carlson means that Johnson was performing on the behest of the Biden administration. Putin provides: “The place is Mr Johnson now? And the conflict continues.”

Putin tells Carlson the US must do extra to finish the conflict. It might be “over inside a couple of weeks” if solely the US have been to “cease supplying weapons”. “You must inform the present Ukrainian management to cease and are available to a negotiating desk,” he says. “This countless mobilisation in Ukraine, the hysteria, the home issues – ultimately, it can end in an settlement.” 

Sabre-rattling rhetoric this isn’t, however Putin additionally notes that Russia has not fulfilled all of its conflict goals and that an settlement ought to embody Ukraine ceding territory to Russia. As Lawrence Freedman has written, Putin frequently makes claims to be prepared for peace negotiations, “however when pushed additional it transpires that his curiosity in diplomacy is barely to assist him obtain a few of his core aims, equivalent to Ukrainian neutrality or the switch of much more territory than presently occupied to the Russian Federation. We are able to take such calls extra significantly once they open with a promise to withdraw from Ukrainian territory.” 

Finally, Vladimir Putin’s first interview with the West for the reason that conflict started was neither an ideal second within the annals of trenchant, inquisitive journalism, nor was it notably enlightening. To Tucker Carlson’s credit score, he did ask Putin to launch the jailed Wall Road Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and permit the journalist to depart the nation with him. Putin declined to permit this, and as all through the whole thing of the trade maintained management of the dialogue and the narrative. And but I’m not even positive the interview will likely be that efficient as a propaganda device, as many feared it might. It’s laborious to see the place the American proper would start in even getting a foothold in Putin’s perspective. For all of the hype, most viewers would have absolutely tuned out in some unspecified time in the future throughout Putin’s “not boring!” historic diversion. 

[See also: Lionel Barber on Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview]

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