US shock jock Tucker Carlson has handed Russian President Vladimir Putin the victory he so desperately needed — validation.
Those who want to believe Putin will have been reinvigorated by today’s interview.
Those who don’t will dismiss it, and move on with their lives.
And that’s a net victory for the dictator’s expansive goals of undermining Western democracy and returning Russia to an age of empires.
“Well, I’ve watched the whole interview,” posts Russian propaganda researcher Dr Ian Gardner.
“Grandstanding for Putin. Bait for MAGA. Carlson didn’t ask anything tough … Don’t bother watching it.
“Putin ends by (falsely) claiming it’s Ukraine and the West who want war. He wants to negotiate. And that’s your lot.”
It was a rehash of narratives aimed at a specific audience. One Carlson has long been profiting from.
“(Western) media outlets are corrupt,” he declared. “They lie to their readers and viewers”.
He didn’t compare and contrast this claim to the track record of Kremlin-controlled media. Or the fate of Russian journalists who dared question their supreme leader.
But he knew those words would be music to the ears of America’s QAnon adherents, white Christian nationalists, and far-right conspiracy theorists.
It lasted two hours.
“No one listens to us,” Putin complained.
But, with most Russian news services long since banned from the West, Carlson chose to use Elon Musk’s “X” (formerly Twitter) to rebroadcast the interview.
It was a fact not lost on Putin: “I think there’s no stopping Elon Musk,” he proclaimed.
Putin’s war on history
“There is a stupid theory, that Hitler could have been prevented as a dictator, if he would have been accepted into the Vienna Arts Academy,” notes the founder of the European Resilience think tank, Sergej Sumlenny.
“It looks like they should have provided Putin with a history chair at the Moscow University.”
Putin insisted Ukrainians were Russian: “No one will be able to separate the soul,” he said, dismissing Ukraine’s unique cultural identity and history.
“It’s an obvious lie. Carlson is nodding along,” quipped Dr Garner. “Oh God, then Putin gives him a ‘history lesson’, The usual toss about Russia’s 1000+ year history. Absolute pile of bollocks.”
Carlson was bored at Putin’s retelling of this re-imagined past: “I’m not sure why it’s relevant to what happened two years ago.”
Putin snapped back: “Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?”
But rewriting history is central to Putin’s ambitions.
In his world, Russia is an ancient empire that must be allowed to colonise Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Georgia once again.
Do as I say, not as I do
In one of his rare moments, Carlson challenged Putin by asking if that meant he’d told Hungary’s Victor Orban he could have back the portions of Ukraine it held in 1654.
Putin hesitated, but eventually answered – with a straight face: “Never. I have never told him. Not a single time.”
It’s a failed justification international analysts seized upon.
“So does Putin think every “nation” that supposedly existed back in 1654 can rightfully reclaim its borders today? Is that how it works?” asks cognitive psychologist and Russia analyst Dr Blada Knowlton.
That would mean Taiwan must be divided between Spain and the Netherlands (not something Chairman Xi Jinping, who has his own ambitions of recreating a mythological ancient empire, would agree with).
Carlson’s own United (and Confederate) States would have to be disbanded and returned to the Native American tribes, along with a scattering of British, Dutch, French and Spanish colonies.
But Putin went on.
He blamed the CIA for staging a “coup” to oust Ukraine’s former pro-Russian leadership.
He insisted his goal was “to stop this war” but that his objective of “deNazification” had yet to be completed.
“Vladimir Putin believes that Russia has a historic claim to parts of western Ukraine,” Carlson summarised. “So our opinion would be to view it in that light, as a sincere expression of what he thinks.”
Strategic disinformation strike
“Well, this Tucker Carlson interview is turning out just like one of Putin’s state of the nation addresses,” says ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre fellow Dr Matthew Sussex. “A longwinded and interminably dull selective history lesson. Great insomnia cure for the aged MAGA demographic.”
But Putin achieved his goal of giving his tailored version of history to an international audience.
It’s a magnification of a longstanding campaign to rewrite Russian school books to erase “inconvenient facts”, such as President Joseph Stalin’s pact with Adolf Hitler. And that Ukraine’s history is like that of many other European cultural groupings – one cycling through independence and occupation by a multitude of neighbouring states over the course of several millennia.
“Russian culture has frequently indulged in grandiose imaginings, and the collapse of the Soviet Union has intensified Russians’ longing for less chaotic, more dignified narratives, giving rise to a cottage industry of alternate histories,” argues Professor of International Affairs Nin Khrushcheva.
“Under Putin, however, these embellished narratives have taken centre stage.”
Has Carson helped, or hindered, that cause?
Pro-Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny advocate Anna Veduta was optimistic.
“I’m glad he did it. Even the MAGA folks and diehards might finally see that Putin’s on another level of crazy”.
“Putin’s kind of flubbing a golden propaganda opportunity by just being incredibly boring,” adds Institute for Strategic Dialogue analyst Elise Thomas.
“Give it a day or so to see what bits of it people can clip out and try to make go viral, and then we’ll have a better sense of the impact. The vast majority of people are never ever going to watch this whole long slog though.”