Tucker Carlson gives Putin a platform to justify his war in Ukraine

Tucker Carlson gives Putin a platform to justify his war in Ukraine
Putin have a long two-hour interview to US journalist Tucker Carlson where he laid out in detail his position on the Ukraine conflict and the clash with the West. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin February 9, 2024

US journalist Tucker Carlson gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a platform to lay out his justification for attacking Ukraine and clashing with the West that was posted on the ex-Fox News commentator’s X channel on February 8.

The two-hour long video had garnered 58.9 mln views as of the morning of February 9 and more than 533,000 likes. On Carlson’s YouTube channel, the interview has so far been viewed 2.3 mln times. The full Kremlin transcription of the interview is here.

While claiming to be a traditional journalist, Carlson is well known for being soft on Putin and opposes US support for Ukraine. The only western journalist to have interviewed Putin since the war started almost two years ago, Carlson asked mainly softball questions and has caused controversy for giving Putin a platform to speak to America’s right which has become increasingly reluctant to help Ukraine. Another attempt to pass a $60bn aid package was blocked by Republicans earlier the same week.

The US has run out of money and stopped deliveries of arms since January leading to growing shortages of ammunition on the battlefield. Putin told Carlson that Western officials, “are coming to realise that Moscow’s strategic defeat is impossible.”

In the interview that lasted two hours and six minutes, the Russian leader took about 60 questions, including the interviewer’s follow-up questions.

Peace talks

Moscow did not start a war in 2022 but its goal is to “stop the war that Ukraine unleashed in 2014,” Putin said, obliquely referring to the EuroMaidan revolution that saw democratically elected former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych ousted what Ukrainians call the Revolution of Dignity.

Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas rejected the new Western-backed government in Kyiv and fighting broke out, supplied by Moscow, that led to thousands of deaths in the disputed region.

"The situation got to the point when the Ukrainian side announced, no, we will not do anything. They also started preparing for military action. It was they who started the war in 2014. Our goal is to stop this war. And we did not start this war in 2022. This is an attempt to stop it," he emphasised.

Russian forces crossed the border into Ukraine in what the world widely sees as an unprovoked attack on February 24, 2022 after denying for years that it was backing the separatists forces fighting Ukrainian government forces in the Donbas or that Russian forces were present in the Donbas, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Moscow has never refused to hold talks on Ukraine and is confident that the conflict will sooner or later end in peace and relations between the two countries’ people will be restored, Putin told Carlson, adding that if the West wants to stop the war, it should stop supplying Ukraine with weapons.

"It will be over within a few weeks,” in that case said Putin.

However, after a peace deal was agreed in Istanbul and then rejected by the West in March 2022, Moscow has no intention of taking the first step. "Why do we have to bother ourselves and correct somebody else's mistakes?" Putin said.

The peace deal in Istanbul has become controversial, but the fact an agreement was reached has been confirmed by eight people now, seven of which were participants in the talks. Putin confirmed again that an agreement was reached but rejected at the last minute by the Ukrainian side.

"Right. And we made it. We prepared the huge document in Istanbul that was initialled by the head of the Ukrainian delegation [Oleksii Arestovych]. He had fixed his signature to some of the provisions, not to all of it. He put his signature and then he himself said: ‘We were ready to sign it, and the war would have been over long ago, 18 months ago. However, [then UK] Prime Minister [Boris] Johnson came, talked to us out of it and we missed that chance.’ Well, you missed it. You made a mistake. Let them get back to that. That is all. Why do we have to bother ourselves and correct somebody else's mistakes?" Putin said.

Putin blamed Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky for personally deciding to reject the Istanbul peace deal and refuses to talk to the Kremlin.

"The President of Ukraine has legislated a ban on negotiating with Russia. He signed a decree forbidding everyone to negotiate with Russia. But how are we going to negotiate if he forbade himself and everyone else to do this?" Putin said. "We know that he is putting forward some ideas about this settlement, but in order to agree on something, we need to have a dialog. Is that not right?"

Putin added that an agreement on legally banning neo-Nazism in Ukraine was included in the Istanbul deal in 2022. The Kremlin has used the trope of fighting Nazism as one of its excuses for invading Ukraine, which it dropped last year, but recently has resurfaced in the Kremlin’s comments on the war.

"You know, as strange as it may seem to you, during the negotiations at Istanbul, we did agree that we have it all in writing. Neo-Nazism would not be cultivated in Ukraine, including that it would be prohibited at the legislative level," Putin stressed.

The conditions for ending the war in Ukraine, including the option of keeping the situation as it is now, need to be discussed, Putin said.

"It is a subject matter for the negotiations no one is willing to conduct or, to put it more accurately, they're willing, but do not know how to do it. I know they want to. It is not just I see it, but I know they do want it, but they are struggling to understand how to do it."

Asked why former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly killed the peace deal, Putin responded: "Who knows. I don't understand it myself. There was a general starting point. For some reason, everyone had the illusion that Russia could be defeated on the battlefield. Because of arrogance, because of a pure heart, but not because of a great mind."

Putin said that he remained confident that the war would end and relations between Russians and Ukrainians could return to normal.

"This probably sounds strange given the current situation but the relations between the two peoples will be rebuilt anyway. It will take a lot of time, but they will heal,” he said.

Speaking about the earlier attempt to bring peace to Ukraine, the Minsk Agreements thrashed out in talks between Putin, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande designed to bring the fighting in the Donbas to an end, Putin said that they "were complicated for Ukraine."

"They included lots of elements of those Donbass territories' independence. That's true. However, I was absolutely confident - and I'm saying this to you now - I honestly believed that if we managed to convince the residents of Donbass and we had to work hard to convince them to return to Ukrainian statehood, then gradually, the wounds would start to heal. When this part of territory reintegrated itself into a common social environment, when the pensions and social benefits were paid again, all the pieces would gradually fall into place," he went on to say. "Nobody wanted that. Everybody wanted to resolve the issue by military force only but we could not let that happen," the Russian president concluded.

Ukraine is not a real country

Putin went on to repeat his oft quoted assertion that Ukraine is “not a real country.” Ukraine is an artificial state in a sense, "shaped at Stalin's will" particularly of Hungarian, Polish and Romanian lands.

"In 1922, when the USSR was being established, the Bolsheviks started building the USSR and established the Soviet Ukraine, which had never existed [as a country] before," the head of state noted.

Putin explained that Lenin, "for some unknown reasons, transferred to that newly established Soviet Republic of Ukraine some of the lands, together with people living there, even though those lands had never been called Ukraine."

"Those lands included the Black Sea region, which was received under Catherine the Great and which had no historical connection with Ukraine whatsoever," Putin emphasised.

Putin said he had never discussed a possible return of the Hungarian lands with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which had been handed over to Ukraine under Stalin and remains an ethnic enclave within Ukraine to this day.

Putin claimed that Ukraine has become a “puppet of the US” and suggested that Zelenskiy has only limited freedom to make decisions in the war.

"I already said that we did not refuse to talk. We're willing to negotiate. It is the Western side, and Ukraine is obviously a satellite state of the US. It is evident. I do not want you to take it as if I am looking for a strong word or an insult. But we both understand what is happening," Putin noted.

When asked if he believed Zelensky had the freedom to negotiate a settlement to the conflict, Putin said: "I don't know the details. Of course, it's difficult for me to judge, but I believe he has. In any case, he used to have."

Nato expansion

Putin said that Russia was willing to join Nato and develop common defence systems against “rogue states,” the purported reason why Nato allies set up a missile defence system in Central Europe, but the Kremlin was told to “get lost” in response.

“Then they just told us to get lost… We created hypersonic systems with intercontinental range, and we continue to develop them,” in response Putin said.

Putin pointed to a Kremlin meeting with then US President Bill Clinton in 2000. "I asked him: ‘Bill, do you think if Russia asked to join NATO, do you think it would happen?’ Suddenly he said, ‘you know, it's interesting. I think so.’ But in the evening, when we met for dinner, he said: ‘You know, I've talked to my team, no, it's not possible now’," Putin said. "If he had said yes, the process of rapprochement would have started.”

Putin repeated his assertion that the West’s constant expansion of Nato was the causa belli that promoted Russia’s “special military operation,” in Ukraine. He blamed the West for a policy of applying constant pressure to post-Soviet Russia.

"Then look, why, in my opinion, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, such an erroneous, crude, completely unjustified policy of pressure was pursued against Russia?" he asked rhetorically.

"After all, this is a policy of pressure. NATO expansion, support for the separatists in Caucasus, creation of a missile defence system. These are all elements of pressure. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Then dragging Ukraine into NATO is all about pressure, pressure, pressure. Why?".

Carlson asked Putin "how can a leader who has to kill" reconcile it with Christian beliefs. Putin replied: "It is very easy when it comes to protecting oneself and one's family, one's homeland."

Putin warned for many years that the relentless eastern expansion of Nato was seen by Moscow as a security threat and that Russia would “push back” if it did not stop, in a famous speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. Nato began expanding eastwards in 1999, when Poland, Hungary and Czechia joined, eventually adding eight new members.

Putin dated the start of the conflict in Ukraine not at February 24, 2022, but in 2014 with the EuroMaidan demonstrations, which Putin claimed again was a coup d'état organised "with the backing of the CIA, of course," he added.

"I know one can say it is our mistake. It was us who intensified the situation and decided to put an end to the war that started in 2014, in Donbass. As I have already said, by means of weapons." However, NATO’s expansion in breach of earlier promises is also something to remember. "Let us go back to the coup d'etat in Ukraine in 2014. It is pointless, though, isn't it? We may go back and forth endlessly,” Putin said, referring to verbal promises made by Western leaders to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Recently the western press has been full of “Nato next” stories, speculating that if Russia takes control of Ukraine it will not stop there and go on to attack the Baltic states before possibly invading the rest of the EU.

Allegations of the "Russian threat" are aimed at intimidating common people, Putin said. "We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. <...> It's just warmongering."

Evan Gershkovich

Putin did not rule out that US national Evan Gershkovich, charged with espionage in Russia, might be released. Carlson asked why the Wall Street Journal journalist had been arrested as he was “just a journalist.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was definitely engaged in espionage, according to Putin. "He's not just a journalist. I reiterate. He's a journalist who is secretly getting confidential information," Putin said. But Moscow is ready to release him if its "partners take reciprocal steps,” Putin said, adding that talks on a possible swap were ongoing.

"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," the Russian leader said.

"I do not rule out that Mr. Gershkovich may return to his motherland,” adding that there were many Russians jailed in the West who, according to Moscow, "are not connected with special services."

It has been widely reported that Putin was probably referring to the Russian national Vadim Krasikov who is currently serving a life sentence in Germany after being convicted of murder.

"Let me tell you a story about a person serving a sentence in an allied country of the US. That person, due to patriotic sentiments, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals. During the events in the Caucasus, do you know what he was doing? I don't want to say that, but I will do it anyway. He was laying our soldiers taken prisoner on the road and then drove his car over their heads. What kind of person is that? Can he even be called human? But there was a patriot who eliminated him in one of the European capitals. Whether he did it of his own volition or not. That is a different question," he continued in an apparent reference to Krasikov.

Nord Stream

On the vexed question of who blew up the Nord Stream 1&2 pipelines last September, Putin repeated Kremlin claims that the US was behind it and motivated by commercial gain as following the end of Russian imports of piped gas, the US has grabbed a large share of the European gas market with record levels of US LNG exports to the EU.

This week Sweden ended its investigation into the explosion without conclusion and handed its evidence over to Germany.

Putin complained that the investigation evidence has never been shared with Moscow because "in the war of propaganda, it is very difficult to defeat the United States because the United States controls all the world's media and many European media. So it is possible to get involved in this work, but it is cost prohibitive, so to speak. It is clear to the whole world what happened."

Putin said that Russia was willing to resume gas deliveries to Europe through the one strand of the four pipelines that made up Nord Stream 1 & 2 pipelines, but Germany is refusing to do a deal for the meantime. The surviving strand could deliver around 25bcm of gas to Europe a year, roughly equivalent to what is still transiting Ukraine from Russia to Europe despite the war.

"After all, it is not only about Nord Stream 1, which was blowing up and the Nord Stream 2 was damaged, but one pipe is safe and sound and gas can be supplied to Europe through it. But Germany does not open it. We are ready. Please," Putin said.


The West fears an economically strong China more than it fears a strong Russia, Putin said before highlighting the growing economic ties between Moscow and Beijing.

"The West is afraid of a strong China more than it fears a strong Russia, because Russia has won 150 million people and China has a 1.5 billion population. And its economy is growing by leaps and bounds, or 5% a year. It used to be even more, but that's enough for China," Putin said.

Putin called Chinese President Xi Jinping his "colleague and friend" as the Sino-Russian relation continues to deepen. Russia and China have a balanced trade turnover and complement each other in the sphere of high technologies, energy and science, Putin said.

"We, together with my colleague and friend President XI Jinping, set the goal to reach $200 billion of mutual trade with China this year. We have exceeded this level," Putin said.

Moscow and Beijing have already hit their mutual target of surpassing $200 bln per year of mutual trade. According to China’s General Administration of Customs, bilateral trade rose by 26.3% in 2023, hitting a record high of $240.11 bln. China’s exports to Russia grew by 46.9% to $110.97 bln, and imports were up by 12.7%, reaching $129.14 bln.

According to Rosstat, bilateral trade with China totals already $230 billion, and according to the Chinese statistics it is $240 billion in 2023, up 26.3% y/y. Chinese exports to Russia increased by 46.9%, to $110.97 billion. Imports from Russia increased by 12.7%, to $129.14 billion in 2023.

Russia became Europe’s number one economy in terms of purchasing power parity, over taking Germany in size in PPP terms to become the fifth largest economy in the world in 2023, despite the unprecedented sanctions that it has to face, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Tucker Carlson published on the US journalist’s website.

"Russia was the first economy in Europe last year, despite all the sanctions and restrictions. Is it normal from your point of view: sanctions, restrictions, impossibility of payments in dollars, being cut off from SWIFT services, sanctions against our ships carrying oil, sanctions against aeroplanes, sanctions in everything, everywhere. The largest number of sanctions in the world which are applied, are applied against Russia. And we have become Europe's first economy during this time," Putin said.

Putin went on to point out that the share of BRICS in the global economy has already overtaken that of G7, and the group continues to develop rapidly, as bne IntelliNews reported in a recent deep dive into Putin’s big bet on the Global South Century.

“If memory serves me right, back in 1992, the share of the G7 countries in the world economy amounted to 47%, whereas in 2022 it was down to, I think, a little over 30%. The BRICS countries accounted for only 16% in 1992, but now their share is greater than that of the G7. It has nothing to do with the events in Ukraine."

Trump and US presidents

Putin said he could not remember the last time he had talked to US President Joe Biden and that he had good personal relations with former US presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush.

He went on to say that Washington’s policy does not depend on who the country’s president is, but what the political elite think.

"It is not about the personality of the leader. It is about the elites’ mindset." Today, the United States is trying unsuccessfully to adapt to the changing world by using force but "the tools that the US uses don't work." The US position in the world will also change, and "the only question is how this will happen, painfully and quickly or gently and gradually."

Putin also took a dig at the anti-Russia lobby in Washington and the right-wing think tanks that advise the White House and State Department, saying they were pushing for war.

"During the confrontation with the Soviet Union, there were many centres created and specialists in the Soviet Union who could not do anything else. They convinced the political leadership that it is necessary to continue chiselling Russia, to try to break it up, to create on this territory several quasi state entities, and to subdue them in a divided form, to use their combined potential for the future struggle with China," Putin told Carlson.