By the end of the conversation, it was clear that Putin had no intention of ending his brutal war against Ukraine. But Carlson, who was sacked from Fox last year, seemed ready to surrender. Putin offered to keep talking. Carlson, evidently exhausted by the Russian leader’s long-winded conspiracy theories and grievances against the West, thanked him and called it quits — far short of the media coup that he had been touting.
Analysts said Putin’s choice to talk to Carlson was based partly on his perceived sympathy — the former Fox host has repeatedly dismissed criticism of Putin over the years — and the opportunity to appeal to the more MAGA reaches of the Republican Party during an election year. That could boost Donald Trump’s chances of reelection and convince Republicans to continue to block U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
Carlson spent most of the interview in silence, or looking confounded.
He did not ask a single question about Russia’s attacks on civilian areas or critical infrastructure in Ukraine, which have killed thousands. There was no mention of the war crime allegations facing the Russian leader or the forced deportation of Ukrainian children. Absent too were questions on Russia’s sweeping political crackdowns on Putin’s critics or the long jail sentences meted out to ordinary Russians staging antiwar protests.
Instead, Carlson posed increasingly esoteric questions — including whether any world leader could be a true Christian — and at times appeared to goad Putin into alleging a U.S. deep state and promote other conspiracy theories.
At several moments, when Carlson tried to interject, he was chastised by the president.
“I’ll tell you, I’m coming to that. This briefing is coming to an end. It might be boring, but it explains many things,” said Putin in a condescending tone.
“It’s not boring. [I’m] just not sure how it’s relevant,” said Carlson. Putin responded that he was “gratified” and appreciated that.
Putin’s domination of the interview with Carlson was a stark contrast with a grilling that the Russian leader received from Austrian news anchor Armin Wolf, who won acclaim in 2018 by repeatedly challenging him and putting him on the defensive.
Carlson himself appeared to acknowledge the challenges of interviewing an increasingly reclusive autocrat with a 24-year history of dodging questions and dominating interviews.
Ruminating on the interview afterward in a gilded antechamber at the Kremlin palace, Carlson said that the start of the interview had taken him by surprise, with “an extremely detailed history going back to the 9th century of the formation of Russia.”
“I’m not exactly sure what I thought of the interview. … It’s going to take me a year to decide what that was,” said Carlson in a video published on his website. “Putin is not someone who does a lot of interviews. He is not good at explaining himself. … But he’s clearly spending a lot of time in a world where he doesn’t have to explain himself.”
Carlson said he felt that Putin had not presented his case coherently, but sensed that the Russian leader was “wounded” by the rejection of the West.
During the long and rambling course of the interview, the Russian leader recycled justifications he has made for the invasion of Ukraine, including the “denazification” of the country.
“If they consider themselves a separate people, they have the right to do so. But not on the basis of Nazism, the Nazi ideology,” said Putin, adding that Ukraine was a satellite state of the United States.
The president also claimed that Moscow withdrew its troops from Kyiv in 2022 as part of a peace deal. In April 2022, Kyiv pushed back invading Russian troops from the capital.
Putin at one point warned the West sternly against sending its own troops to fight in Ukraine, and then wondered why the United States was meddling in the conflict rather than attending to its own problems. And he said Washington should be willing to reach a deal with Russia to end the war (ignoring the obvious fact that Kyiv would not go along.)
“Well, if somebody has the desire to send regular troops, that would certainly bring humanity to the brink of a very serious global conflict — this is obvious,” Putin said.
“Do the United States need this? What for? Thousands of miles away from your national territory. 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? Make an agreement?
“Realizing that Russia will fight for its interests to the end,” Putin said, such an agreement would be “a return to common sense.”
In some of his most direct comments on the case, Putin said that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained while on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg last year, was arrested because he was “working for the U.S. intelligence services.”
Putin claimed that Gershkovich, who has been charged with espionage and has been in jail since March last year — was “caught red-handed when he was secretly getting confidential information.”
Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal and the White House vehemently deny the charges against him.
“Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction,” the Journal said in a statement Thursday. “Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”
Late last year, the State Department said that the Kremlin had rejected a “significant offer” that would have seen the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine also incarcerated in Russia.
But during the interview with Carlson, Putin said that he believed an agreement on an exchange was possible and that he hoped Gershkovich would return home, but claimed there had been “many gestures of goodwill” and that Moscow had “run out of them.”