Putin interview with Tucker Carlson shows Kremlin outreach to Trump’s GOP

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MOSCOW - As Russian state television propagandists salivated over Tucker Carlson’s interview with President Vladimir Putin, the first of Carlson’s falsehoods about his visit to Moscow was punctured, fittingly enough, by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who presumably helped arrange the whole strange venture.

Carlson, the conservative former Fox News host with a history of airing bogus “news,” claimed - falsely - that prominent U.S. newspapers and television outlets had refused to interview Putin since his invasion of Ukraine and were ignoring Russia’s perspective. Carlson labeled Western media as “corrupt” and accused them of lies on Tuesday in a video confirming that he was in Moscow for a Q&A with the president.

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“Mr. Carlson is wrong,” Peskov said during his daily briefing for reporters. “We receive many requests for interviews with the president.”

Peskov conceded that the Kremlin routinely blocked media interview requests from large Western outlets, but he said it gave Carlson the nod because “his position is different” from the major “Anglo-Saxon media.” (Anglo-Saxon is a common blanket jab at the West even when mostly Americans are involved.)

Carlson’s assertion was astonishing, given that two journalists who are U.S. citizens are now jailed in Russia: Evan Gershkovich, of The Wall Street Journal, who was accused of espionage and seized by Federal Security Service agents last year during a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg, and Alsu Kurmasheva, of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who has dual U.S. and Russian citizenship and who was arrested in October while visiting Russia from Prague where she had been living.

Carlson was sacked by Fox News last April.

The Kremlin’s decision to allow the interview demonstrated Putin’s interest in building bridges to the disruptive MAGA element of the Republican Party, and it seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s hope that Donald Trump would return to the presidency and that Republicans would continue to block U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Halting aid from the United States, which is Ukraine’s biggest Western supporter, could provide Russia with a path to victory in the nearly two-year war. Although the war is largely at a stalemate, Ukraine is facing critical shortages of soldiers, ammunition and weapons as it battles a much larger and better-equipped Russian force.

Putin portrays himself as a guardian of traditional conservative values, showing common cause with MAGA conservatives, who have opposed gender-neutral bathrooms. Putin has made repeated, derisive references about the West’s promotion of transgender rights.

Putin’s government also has crushed free speech, banned any public expression of LGBTQ+ identity and jailed hundreds of antiwar activists, critics, feminists, lawyers and cultural figures for speaking out.

Pro-Trump Republicans are a natural ally for Putin on LGBTQ and other issues, but also because the Kremlin has long sought to exploit divisions in American society and to meddle in U.S. politics, including through the use of internet troll farms.

“Carlson is smart and his agenda is clear. He and Putin will work together brilliantly to reinforce the false narrative about Ukraine, weaken Biden, and strengthen Trump,” Janis Kluge, a Berlin-based Russia analyst, wrote about the likely U.S. presidential rematch. “This co-production of theirs may be the most effective and toxic propaganda clip yet created.”

Peskov said the Kremlin prefers Carlson’s to major Western media, which Peskov accused of bias, adding that there was “no benefit” to the Kremlin in giving interviews to established Western news outlets.

Nonetheless, Peskov insisted that Western media were eager to interview his boss. “When it comes to the countries of the collective West, we receive requests from large network media, traditional TV channels and large newspapers, which can in no way boast of trying to at least look impartial in terms of covering what is going on,” Peskov said.

“These are all media outlets that take a one-sided stance,” he added. “Of course, we have no desire to communicate with such media, and there is no benefit in giving them interviews.”

Peskov confirmed that Carlson interviewed Putin in person. Peskov also described Carlson as “pro-American.”

Carlson has often echoed Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s war on Ukraine, by attacking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and opposing U.S. military aid to help Ukraine defend itself.

Pro-Kremlin commentator Sergei Markov was among the jubilant voices celebrating Carlson’s Putin interview and its capacity to reach Trump Republicans, regurgitating Putin’s spin on the war.

Markov claimed falsely that Western governments have “banned” major Western news media from interviewing Putin, because “all Western governments know in principle that Russia is right.” He offered no evidence for the assertion

“This is the worldwide conspiracy that Tucker Carlson can partially destroy,” Markov said.

Konstantin Sonin, a prominent Russian economist and Putin critic who is now at the University of Chicago, said it was “amazing” that Carlson would go to Moscow “to find out what is going on,” instead of visiting Ukraine, which faces daily barrages of Russian missiles.

“How would a visit to Moscow, the capital of the aggressor country, 500 miles from the war frontiers … help in figuring out what is going on?” Sonin posted on X.

Others expressed similar dismay.

“Unbelievable!” posted prominent Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats, who is a supporter of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and currently living in the United States.

“I am like hundreds of Russian journalists who have had to go into exile to keep reporting about the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine,” Albats wrote. “The alternative was to go to jail. And now this [jerk] is teaching us about good journalism, shooting from the $1000 Ritz suite in Moscow.”

Ukrainians were deeply offended by Carlson’s interview, posting images on social media of Kyiv residents sheltering with their pets in the subway as Russian missiles hit the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday.

Putin for months has asserted that he is ready for peace talks and has blamed Zelensky for the continuing war. However, in suggesting talks, Russia continues to demand Ukraine’s total capitulation, including the surrender of territory that Russia is trying to seize. Moscow is also demanding Ukraine’s “neutrality,” which means it would have to abandon its aspiration to join the European Union and NATO, as well as “demilitarization” and “denazification.” Putin has accused Ukraine of being led by a Nazi regime but provided no evidence of that.

Moscow officials have been steeling Russian citizens for a long war of attrition, despite shocking casualties on both sides and growing fatigue among Russians, the majority of whom want a swift peace deal that does not return occupied land to Ukraine, according to recent opinion polling.

Such a deal, however, would be unacceptable to Ukrainians, including many living in occupied areas.

A Russian media channel on Telegram, Ostorozhno Novosti, reported that Russian state media have mentioned Carlson more than 2,000 times in recent days. Some outlets have even tailed his vehicle, reporting where he ate, with whom he met and where he visited.

Local media reported that Carlson visited the fast-food outlet, Vkusno i Tochka, which replaced McDonald’s when the chain left Russia.

“Such attention to the U.S. citizen has led to the appearance of jokes in social networks about state propaganda’s love for a foreigner who came to the Russians,” Ostorozhno Novosti reported.

Pro-war Russian state television military reporter and blogger Yevgeny Poddubny, who is popular among Russian nationalists and has more than 700,000 Telegram subscribers, said Carlson’s interview with Putin was proof that in the West, “our truth is in demand like never before.”

State television propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, one of the Kremlin’s anti-Western attack dogs, seemed to suggest that Carlson’s interview would torpedo any last hope for approval of new American military aid for Ukraine.

Solovyov said Carlson’s visit came “at the worst possible time for the West,” and he begged Carlson to join the Russian Union of Journalists, which Solovyov heads.

Another pro-Kremlin propagandist and prominent TV host, Olga Skabeyeva, simply posted a stark black and white image of Carlson’s face next to Putin’s with the words: “Thank you. We are waiting.”

Yuriy Hempel, a pro-Russian lawmaker in Crimea, called on Carlson to fly to Crimea, the Ukrainian territory illegally invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014.

Independent Russian journalist Dmitry Kolezev noted that Putin has given numerous interviews to American television in past years, and no one really cared.

“But now an interview with a presenter with a particular reputation is apparently seen as an unprecedented breakthrough,” Kolezev posted on X. “Literally the second coming happened,”

Kolezev joked that Carlson had been “naive” to claim on his video Tuesday that Russia had invaded Ukraine, adding that Putin would correct him with the Kremlin’s official version: “that Putin did not invade anywhere; it was NATO that attacked Russia.”

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