The conservative American television presenter has excited Moscow and tried to raise high expectations. But the interview with the Russian president says almost more about the interviewer than about the interviewee.
Tucker Carlson interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Moscow Kremlin.
Gavriil Grigorov / AP
An American in Moscow during a time of war – and Russian propaganda goes crazy. The arrival of American television presenter Tucker Carlson in Russia has been made into a major event by the state-controlled media and its zealous following. For days, reporters followed virtually every move of the man who is a euphoric supporter of Donald Trump and an equally die-hard opponent of Joe Biden and the Democrats in the USA.
Telegram channels were overwhelmed with reports and assessments. This grotesque exaggeration also showed how fixated on America the Russians still are, despite all their hatred towards “Uncle Sam” – always looking for recognition from their rivals.
Putin goes far
They were less interested in Carlson’s reverent praise of Moscow city life than in whether and when he would interview President Vladimir Putin. The announcement on Tuesday evening not only thrilled Russian propagandists, but also their like-minded people in the West. This interview, they were sure days before, would be an event of the century and would deal a blow to the hated Biden and the war enemy Ukraine – in Trump’s favor.
The two-hour interview that Carlson published on Friday night European time can hardly live up to these inflated expectations. There is hardly anything that Putin says in it that he has not already done on previous occasions. Anyone who has taken the trouble to study Putin’s speeches and writings and is familiar with the reporting on them will not learn anything new.
Carlson himself does not appear to have done so. For him, the “conflict in Ukraine” begins on February 24, 2022, and he seems surprised and even annoyed at the long historical digressions that Putin gives in response to the question of why the attack occurred. So much so that he prefaces the interview with a short introduction in which he expresses this surprise. He doesn’t seem to know anything about Putin’s role as an amateur historian.
In total, more than half of the interview consists of historical digressions – an almost half-hour one from the founding of Rus to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Maidan in 2014, which is intended to explain Russia’s relationship with Ukraine, and a no less detailed one that describes the mistakes the West has done from Putin’s perspective since 1991. Putin’s well-known belief that Ukraine does not actually exist and that its territory is historically Russian territory runs through the entire conversation. It is actually a civil war.
For the most part, Carlson acts as a not particularly well-informed keyword who often agrees with Putin’s view, for example on the question of NATO expansion. The Kremlin leader portrays himself as someone who has tried for years to bring Russia closer to the West since he took office, but was always rebuffed by the USA. This also has to do with the surplus American industrial capacity after the end of the Cold War, he says at one point in the interview.
The Kremlin wants peace – but the others don’t
The two also spend a long time on the question of how the war in Ukraine could be brought to an end. Before the war can be ended, the threat of NATO membership must be eliminated and “Ukrainian Nazism” must be banned – as part of a peace treaty, says Putin. Putin gives a contradictory answer to the question of whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is capable of deciding for himself to pick up the thread with Russia. At one point he says it’s hard to say, but why not? At the end of the interview, he insists that Ukraine is a satellite of the USA and that the legal ban on negotiating with the Russian leadership is inconceivable without the announcement from Washington.
He made it clear beforehand that he sees the key in the USA. He sees little point in a conversation with President Joe Biden. But he adds fuel to the fire of the domestic political discussion in the USA when he asks what the Americans have lost in Ukraine, what they are spending so much money on there – whether they have nothing better to do? From Putin’s point of view, the easiest thing would be for the Americans to stop supplying weapons; Then the fighting would be over in a few weeks and peace negotiations could begin.
Putin refrained from making more detailed statements about American domestic politics. There were also no new threatening gestures to be heard from him – on the contrary: the evocation of a nuclear threat by Russia in the West has no basis and only serves to intimidate its own western population. The fear of a Russian attack on NATO states – Poland, Latvia – is also completely unfounded. No sensible person would want to provoke a world war.
Carlson justified the decision to question Putin on the one-sidedness of English-language reporting on Russia, Ukraine and the war and claimed that Putin, unlike Zelensky, was not given the opportunity to explain himself in the West. No Western media has requested a conversation with Putin. The interview will provide the first opportunity to hear Putin’s view of Ukraine and the war. Russian and Western despisers of the supposed “mainstream media” agreed and predicted a turning point in Western perceptions of Russia and the war.
However, even Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov had to correct Carlson: Western media requests for interviews were coming in large numbers. But since their point of view is so biased, there is no desire to address it, nor does it make sense to Putin. The sheer fuss surrounding Carlson’s trip to Moscow and the importance attached to his interview should vindicate the Kremlin. Being able to explain what Russia’s views are is one thing. The other – and probably more important – goal was to use the interview to influence American domestic politics and to strengthen Trump and the Republicans in their desire to torpedo Biden’s policies.
The fate of the journalist Gershkovich
Apart from that, the claim that Putin’s view is not communicated in the West and is unknown to the public does not correspond to any fact. All Western media always report in detail on Putin’s appearances and speeches and show how he justifies the “special operation” and how he assesses the situation. In this sense, the interview doesn’t bring anything new at all. The Western journalists who continue to report from Russia also try to portray the reality in the country in a variety of ways.
Rather, the relativization of the unscrupulous suppression of civil liberties by alleged Western “freedom fighters” like Carlson and his followers is as baffling as it is mendacious. Western governments would certainly try to censor his interview and prevent its distribution, Carlson whispered in his Tuesday evening announcement, because they are afraid of anything they do not control. That sounds like a description of the Russian situation – with the difference that Carlson apparently doesn’t want to see it and, conversely, completely distorts the situation in Europe and America.
This particularly stuns those who experience the repression firsthand. The news director of the exiled private Russian television channel Dozhd (TV Rain), Yekaterina Kotrikadze, appeared disgusted and outraged in a comment on her YouTube channel by the red carpet being laid out for the American propagandist, while Russian journalists critical of the regime like herself If they returned to their homeland, they would have to expect the loss of freedom.
She also recalled the fate of the American “Wall Street Journal” correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who has been in Russian custody for ten months on the pretext of espionage. After all, at the very end of the interview with Putin, Carlson asks about Gershkovich’s fate and insists that he is a journalist, not a spy. He even asked Putin to give Gershkovich Carlson as a goodwill gesture. The Russian president makes it clear that he sees Vadim Krasikov, the suspected intelligence officer who is imprisoned in Berlin for the murder of Georgian Zelimkhan Changoshvili, whom he calls a “patriot,” in return for his release.
A second Feuchtwanger?
In a sense, Tucker Carlson is the American equivalent of Russian propagandists like Vladimir Solovyov. That’s what makes him so attractive to them and their viewers. No other American “journalist” is as well-known or as admired in Russia as Carlson, who is constantly celebrated as a kind of hero on Russian talk shows. He is the only one who stands against the system and stands up for the truth – this was the tenor that journalists from the Russian state agency Sputnik heard during a street survey in Moscow.
These Russians are, paradoxically, in awe of someone who is considered a heretic in America and is therefore in a position that would immediately lead to banishment from the screen and possibly prosecution in Russia. The inconsistency of an American being paid such homage when the propaganda otherwise accuses Ukrainians and Europeans of surrendering to America’s influence was even noticed by Andrei Medvedev, a state television journalist and Moscow city parliamentarian.
In recent days, some observers have drawn a comparison to the visit of the German writer Lion Feuchtwanger, who was persecuted by the National Socialists, to Moscow in 1937 – at the height of the Great Terror. Feuchtwanger met, among others, with the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and, after his return to his exile in southern France, published a hymn-like text about his journey. For decades this was considered an example of delusion. More recent research put the picture into perspective after reviewing his Moscow diary notes and his translator’s notes: Feuchtwanger was very aware of the darker aspects and struggled with himself.
Only one thing is clear about Tucker Carlson: The huge hype surrounding his Putin interview was hardly justified. Nothing Putin says goes beyond what those interested have long known from his speeches and writings.