President Vladimir Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson, a U.S. commentator who has made a name for himself by spreading conspiracy theories and has questioned Washington’s support for Kyiv in its fight against invading Russian troops, has been widely criticized for giving the Russian leader a propaganda platform in his first interview with an American journalist since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.
In the more than two-hour interview, released on Carlson’s website early on February 9, Putin again claimed Ukraine was a threat to Russia because the West was drawing the country into NATO — an assertion the military alliance has called false — while avoiding topics such as his brutal crackdown at home on civil society and free speech.
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The interview took place as Putin hopes that Western support for Kyiv will wane and morale among Ukrainians will flag to the point where his war aims are achievable. It also comes as U.S. military support for Kyiv is in question as Republican lawmakers block a $60 billion aid package proposed by President Joe Biden, and a reshuffle of Ukraine’s dismissal of the top commander of the armed forces after a counteroffensive fell far short of its goals.
Putin urged the United States to press Kyiv to stop fighting and cut a deal with Russia, which occupies about one-fifth of Ukraine.
Carlson rarely challenged Putin, who gave a long and rambling lecture on the history of Russia and Ukraine, failing to bring up credible accusations from international rights groups that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine — Putin himself has been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for the unlawful deportation and transfer of children during the conflict — or the imprisonment of opposition figures such as Aleksei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza on trumped up charges that appear politically motivated.
“Putin got his message out the way he wanted to,” said Ian Bremmer, a New York-based political scientist and president of Eurasiagroup.
Even before the meeting was published, Carlson faced criticism for interviewing Putin when his government is holding Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich and another U.S. journalist, Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL, in jail on charges related to their reporting that both vehemently deny.
Kurmasheva’s case was not even mentioned in the interview, while Carlson angered the Wall Street Journal by suggesting that Putin should release the 33-year-old journalist even if “maybe he was breaking your law in some way.”
The U.S. State Department has officially designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained by Russia.
“Evan is a journalist and journalism is not a crime. Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction,” the newspaper said in reaction to the interview.
“Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”
Putin said “an agreement can be reached” to free Gershkovich and appeared to suggest that a swap for a “patriotic” Russian national currently serving out a life sentence for murder in Germany — an apparent reference to Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy organization convicted of assassinating a former Chechen fighter in broad daylight in Berlin in 2019.
“There is no taboo to settle this issue. We are willing to solve it, but there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached,” Putin told Carlson.
Carlson, a former Fox News host, has made a name for himself by spreading conspiracy theories and has questioned U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against invading Russian troops. The interview was Putin’s first with a Western media figure since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Putin said during the interview Russia has no interest in invading NATO member Poland and could only see one case where he would: “If Poland attacks Russia.”
“We have no interest in Poland, Latvia, or anywhere else. Why would we do that? We simply don’t have any interest. It’s just threat mongering. It is absolutely out of the question,” he added.
Describing his decision to interview Putin in an announcement posted on X on February 6, Carlson asserted that U.S. media outlets focus fawningly on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy but that Putin’s voice is not heard in the United States because Western journalists have not “bothered” to interview him since the full-scale invasion.
Carlson has gained a reputation for defending the Russian leader, once claiming that “hating Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy.”
Numerous Western journalists rejected the claim, saying they have consistently sought to interview Putin but have been turned away. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later confirmed that, saying his office receives “numerous requests for interviews with the president” but that most of the Western outlets asking are “traditional TV channels and large newspapers that don’t even attempt to appear impartial in their coverage. Of course, there’s no desire to communicate with this kind of media.”
Carlson’s credentials as an independent journalist have been questioned, and in 2020 Fox News won a defamation case against him, with the judge saying in her verdict that when presenting stories, Carlson is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “‘nonliteral commentary.”
Carlson was one of Fox News’ top-rated hosts before he abruptly left the network last year after Fox settled a separate defamation lawsuit over its reporting of the 2020 presidential election. Fox agreed to pay $787 million to voting machine company Dominion after the company filed a lawsuit alleging the network spread false claims that its machines were rigged against former President Donald Trump.
Carlson has had a rocky relationship at times with the former president, but during Trump’s presidency he had Carlson’s full backing and he has endorsed Trump in his 2024 run to regain the White House.