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Tucker Carlson asks Putin about war in Ukraine, Nord Stream attack, and jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich in two-hour interview

On Thursday evening, as promised, American political commentator Tucker Carlson published his interview with Vladimir Putin. While the former Fox News host asked the Russian president questions on topics ranging from the future of AI technology to the imprisonment of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, the bulk of the two-hour conversation was dedicated to Putin’s motivations for launching the war in Ukraine, with Carlson saying little to challenge his assertions on that topic. Meduza outlines the main questions Carlson asked in the interview and how Putin approached them.

Carlson prefaced the interview by warning viewers that Putin’s answer to his first question consists of a lengthy lecture about “the history of Russia” but that Carlson’s team does not believe this was a “filibustering technique” and views Putin’s responses as “sincere, whether you agree with [them] or not.”

The interview itself began with Carlson asking Putin why he believed “the United States might strike Russia out of the blue,” referencing the address Putin gave when he launched the full-scale war in Ukraine. In response, Putin laid out his version of Russia’s history, beginning with the founding of Kyivan Rus in the ninth century.

As Putin went through this narrative, which differed little from the one he’s repeatedly presented to justify the invasion of Ukraine in recent years, Carlson occasionally interrupted to deliver different variations of the original question. “You’re making the case that Ukraine, [or at least] eastern Ukraine, is, in effect, Russia,” he said at one point. “Why wouldn’t you just take it when you became president 24 years ago? You have nuclear weapons.”

Later, as Putin’s “historical” explanation of the war continued, Carlson asked again, saying: “You obviously have encyclopedic knowledge of this region. But why didn't you make this case for the first 22 years as president, that Ukraine wasn't a real country?” In response, Putin continued with his lecture, asserting that Ukraine is an “artificial state that was shaped at Stalin's will.”

Eventually, Tucker asked Putin directly if he was motivated to start the war in Ukraine because he “felt a physical threat from the West in NATO, including potentially nuclear threat.” Putin responded that while Russia’s leaders were open to cooperation with the West after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia was repeatedly snubbed by Western leaders in the years that followed. In fact, he claimed, an outgoing President Bill Clinton once told him that NATO membership would likely be possible for Russia, only to come back later that day and say it wouldn’t be.

Using ‘history’ to justify war

‘This isn’t an argument about the past’ We asked professional historians to weigh in on Putin’s ‘historical article’

Using ‘history’ to justify war

‘This isn’t an argument about the past’ We asked professional historians to weigh in on Putin’s ‘historical article’

Later in the interview, Tucker referenced this story and another in which Putin said U.S. officials rejected his proposal to build a joint missile defense system:

Twice you've described U.S. presidents making decisions and then being undercut by their agency heads. So it sounds like you're describing a system that's not run by the people who are elected, in your telling.

“That's right, that's right,” Putin said.

The Russian president then laid out his grievances regarding the expansion of NATO, repeating his past claim that Moscow was given an oral guarantee that the alliance would not expand east but that it did so anyway under undue pressure from the U.S.

As for the E.U., Putin said Moscow was originally “lenient” regarding Ukraine’s relationship to the bloc but became concerned about European goods flooding the Russian market when it read the proposed association agreement between Brussels and Kyiv. After Russia asked then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to pause the process, Putin said, the “armed opposition committed a coup” in Kyiv.

“With the backing of whom?” Carlson asked. “The CIA,” responded Putin.

Carlson also asked Putin about his frequent claims that Russian forces are in Ukraine for the purpose of “denazification”:

Hitler has been dead for 80 years. Nazi Germany no longer exists. [...] I think what you're saying is you want to extinguish or at least control Ukrainian nationalism. But how?

Putin said in response that Hitler’s “example lives on.” As one piece of “evidence,” he cited the 98-year-old former Nazi soldier who was honored by the Canadian Parliament after he was mistakenly invited there during a visit by Ukraine’s President Zelensky in 2023.

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After Putin ridiculed the idea that Russia poses a danger to Europe and the rest of the world, Carlson asked him if he could imagine a scenario where he sends Russian troops into Poland. “Only in one case: if Poland attacks Russia,” Putin said. “Because we have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. […] It goes against common sense to get involved in some kind of a global war and a global war will bring all humanity to the brink of destruction.”

Later, Carlson asked Putin what he makes of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s statement that if the U.S. doesn’t fund Ukraine in the war now, the U.S. could end up more directly involved later. Putin responded by invoking U.S. domestic politics:

Don't you have anything better to do? You have issues on the border. Issues with migration, issues with the national debt. More than $33 trillion. You have nothing better to do. So you should fight in Ukraine. Wouldn't it be better to negotiate with Russia?

Carlson then asked Putin who he believes is responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines. “You,” Putin said. When asked why he doesn’t present the evidence he claims to have so he can “win a propaganda victory,” Putin argued that this would be ineffective because the U.S. “controls all the world's media and many European media.”

Near the end of the conversation, Carlson raised the topic of Evan Gershkovich, the U.S. citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter who was jailed in Russia last year after the authorities accused him of espionage. He asked Putin if he would be willing to release Gershkovich “as a sign of decency” and send him back to the U.S. with Carlson’s team.

Putin refused, saying Russia has “done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency” that it has “run out of them” but that behind-the-scenes negotiations are underway. When Carlson continued to press, telling the Russian leader that “everyone knows” Gershkovich is not a spy, Putin said that there are “different interpretations” of the definition of a spy. Putin then alluded to the case of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian citizen jailed in Germany for the assassination of Georgian citizen Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in a public park, seeming to hint that Russia wants a prisoner swap. He said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that Gershkovich “may return to his motherland.”

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