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Why did Tucker Carlson go to see Putin

Why Tucker Carlson’s when to Putin

The arrival of conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson in Moscow at the beginning of February to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin sparked a media furore. In the West, there was outrage at Carlson giving a platform to the person responsible for unleashing a brutal and devastating war in Ukraine. But in Russia, the visit was met with euphoria, with state-owned media portraying Carlson as one of the most famous and most influential journalists in the United States.

Carlson’s reasons are fairly obvious: an interview with Putin was a provocative gesture that delighted his audience, many of whom are opponents of U.S. President Joe Biden. Warnings that Putin could use him as a propaganda tool did nothing to dissuade Carlson. But to a large extent, that’s what happened: interviewing Putin is no easy task, and the former Fox news presenter immediately found himself on the receiving end of a lengthy and controversial history lecture.

Twice during the encounter, Putin accused Carlson of not asking sufficiently serious questions. It’s worth watching the interview just to see how Putin made even an unthreatening figure like Carlson squirm. To be fair, Carlson tried to interrupt Putin’s interminable history lecture, but was repeatedly swatted aside.

Putin’s reasons for agreeing to such an interview are more complicated. They can be divided into two groups: strategic reasons relating to historical grievances and U.S. foreign policy; and tactical reasons with a direct bearing on the current situation in Ukraine.

Strategically speaking, Putin gave up on the West at the end of 2019 when he convinced himself that whoever was in the White House, Washington would still seek to destroy Russia. That meant Moscow increasingly saw dialogue as a waste of time, and caused Russian politics to descend into a civilizational stand-off with the West.

Since then, Putin has spoken endlessly about Washington’s tendency to self-harm, its inability to think in strategic terms, and its failure to understand its own interests. He regularly claims that the United States wants to destroy the world order and spark new wars.

In this context, the Carlson interview could be seen as a Russian attempt to return to some sort of dialogue. But Putin’s aim was not dialogue with the U.S. political mainstream. Instead, he was speaking to U.S. conservatives personified by the likes of Carlson, former (and possible future) president Donald Trump, and billionaire Elon Musk.

As Putin sees it, these people are potential ideological allies, and might be open to a deal in which the world is carved up into spheres of interest. Putin’s complaints about mainstream U.S. political culture were not designed to hurt Biden in the current U.S. presidential campaign: Putin is thinking more long-term than that.

For the Russian leader, the United States in its current form is nothing less than the devil incarnate, its own worst enemy, and a system doomed to collapse. Putin’s logic is as follows: if the United States is unable to take part in a serious strategic dialogue, let it burn. He sees Trump as a figure likely to wreak destruction, and believes the consequences of a second Trump presidency would be to weaken the West and deprive Ukraine of the support it needs. But the Russian leader says openly that what he actually wants is for the United States to become a different kind of country. The occupant of the White House is a secondary issue.

When it came to Putin’s tactical goals, he likely had a whole series of them. The most important was to show Washington that Russia remains determined to achieve Ukraine’s capitulation. Putin said he wants to liquidate neo-Nazi movements in Ukraine: a choice of words that is code for a radical overhaul of Ukraine’s constitution and political system in order to guarantee a regime that is permanently loyal to Moscow. Putin wants to make sure a pro-Western leader can never come to power in Kyiv.

In addition, Putin offered a quid pro quo to the West: stop arming and supporting Ukraine, and we will halt military action. In this way, Putin was appealing to Biden’s opponents, letting them know that Biden bears responsibility for the ongoing conflict and the deaths of Ukrainians. Even now, Putin claimed, Russia was ready to stop the fighting.

Putin apparently believes there is an opportunity for Russia to seize the upper hand in Ukraine in 2024. It’s true that there will be no major Western arms deliveries to Ukraine this year, that the United States is preoccupied with elections, that broader support for Ukraine is wavering, and that Kyiv is in the throes of political upheaval. Putin was using the interview to try to fuel a debate in the United States over whether to supply further aid to Ukraine. Putin said directly: “Is it not better to reach an agreement with Russia?”

In addition, Putin continued to try to convince the West that Russia is ready to talk—even with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Here, however, Putin is dissembling: unofficially, Moscow has long been signaling to Washington that it needs to get rid of Zelensky if it wants serious peace negotiations.

All of this is important in trying to understand the Kremlin’s tangled political logic. Putin senses that the geopolitical winds are beginning to blow in his favor, handing Russia the initiative on the battlefield, and he was trying to use the interview with Carlson to maximize his current advantage.

The problem was that even when speaking to a “friendly” journalist like Carlson, Putin found it hard to achieve what he apparently set out to do. He was inflexible and obtuse, and focused on issues that he personally felt strongly about. Carlson failed to get answers to a lot of his questions.


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