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Tucker Carlson Platforms Putin's Conspiracy Propaganda

According to Putin, the “uncooperative” Poles in WWII “forced” Adolf Hitler to attack their territory

Vladimir Putin interviewed on Tucker Carlson Network on X (screenshot, February 9, 2024).

Tucker Carlson’s much-hyped interview with Vladimir Putin was touted by the former Fox news anchor as a serious journalistic endeavour. But it principally offered the Russian President a cosy global platform on Elon Musk's X to promote some of his most-favored conspiracy theories, notably about Ukraine and its western allies.

The Russian leader surpassed even his own notorious record for falsifiying history during the pally two-hour exchange – the first interview he has granted with a Western media figure in the two years since he ordered the Ukraine invasion. The master class in Putin propaganda was eagerly lapped up by viewers numbering more than 60 million.

Most egregiously, and without eliciting any pushback from Carlson, who peppered the interview with leading questions, Putin blamed Poland for sparking World War II. According to Putin, in a brazen distortion of the facts, the “uncooperative” Poles “forced” Adolf Hitler to attack their territory because of their refusal to negotiate. “Hitler had nothing left to do but to start implementing his plan with Poland,” declared Putin, apparently unbothered by the obvious analogy he was drawing between himself and the genocidal Nazi dictator.

Unsurprisingly, Putin repeated his claims that Kiev, Washington and the west more broadly including agencies like Nato conspired to bring on the war between Ukraine and Russia, notably from 2014. The Russian President engaged in familiar denialism despite the years of Moscow’s belligerent acts including annexation and full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Another core Putin conspiracy about Ukraine being overrun with Nazis since World War II went uncontested. Putin said Russia still aimed to achieve its war aim of “de-Nazification” and that Russia must “get rid of” people who back Nazism. The barely concealed imputation was that Ukraine’s democratically elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a Nazi and therefore a target.

Putin also alleged without evidence that “arrogant” former UK prime minister Boris Johnson in union with Washington scuppered an attempted peace agreement on Ukraine with Moscow in April 2022. In a pattern repeated throughout the interview, Carlson had put the conspiratorial words in Putin’s mouth, asking why Ukraine was “prevented from negotiating a peace settlement by the former British Prime Minister acting on behalf of the Biden administration”. And the Russian President was more than happy to oblige.

“Deep State” theories beloved by Carlson and Putin resurfaced during the interview. The pair spread the popular conspiracy theory  that the CIA and other secretive agencies and “elite” forces control the US government and a succession of puppet-like presidents Putin has dealt with.

“So, it sounds like you’re describing a system that’s not run by the people who are elected in your telling?” Carlson said in one of his many suggestive “interrogations”. The editorializing came after Putin queried the independence of the American president and government, echoing decades of propaganda from the KGB, where Putin was once a senior figure.

“That’s right. That’s right,” was Putin’s response.  “It is not about the personality of the leader. It is about the elite’s mindset.”

The TV host Carlson, long a willing mouthpiece for Kremlin and Trump propaganda, was seemingly bedazzled by his princely treatment in Moscow, including a night out at the Bolshoi ballet and permission to film a promotional broadcast from the roof of the Ritz-Carlton hotel near Red Square. He even allowed Putin to rave on for more than 30 minutes with a “history” lesson, earning the label "obedient puppy” from Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

During his meandering discourse harking back as far as the 8th and 9th centuries Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine has always been a part of Russia’s ancient territory, and that the division into distinct countries was orchestrated by outside forces. At one point, Putin commanded an aide to hand him documents including copies of letters from the 17th century written by the Russian nobleman Bohdan Khmelnytsky about Poland and Russia.

Carlson and Putin were fully aligned on unfounded theories that the CIA bombed the Nord Stream pipeline in September 2022. This line of questioning produced one of the most bizarre moments of the interview. Putin did not even hide the extent to which he was playing with Carlson. The Russian President exploited the far right broadcaster’s ignorance of Russian and Ukraine history and geography, and his sycophancy (even to the point of mocking him for not being accepted in a youthful job application for the CIA).

When Carlson asked: “who blew up Nord Stream?”, Putin responded: “You for sure.” In jocular form, Carlson retorted he had been “busy that day” to which Putin replied: “The CIA has no such alibi.” Doubling down on his conspiratorial rhetoric Putin declared he “won’t get into details” and instead advised Carlson to “look for someone who is interested” and who “has capabilities”.

Exchanges such as these were widely celebrated on pro-Russian and pro-Trump social media accounts, especially in the US. However, as reported on X, Russian Telegram channel chatter focused on how Putin was unimpressed with the interview and even "considered it a failure"..."According to reports, Putin didn't like Tucker Carlson - "a snob and a useful idiot who got a meaningful fee, but was lazy and lacked creativity."  Putin's purpoted displasured aside, the interview was arguably a communications triumph for Carlson and Putin in the conspiracysphere. However, it comes at a difficult time for Ukraine and for its ally, the incumbent in the White House Joe Biden. The future of vital US military aid to Ukraine is under threat due to Republicans bowing to pressure from Donald Trump, jeopardizing Kiev’s capacity to win the war. The President meanwhile is struggling to advance in the polls ahead of the November election, almost certainly shaping up as another Biden-Trump clash.

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Emma-Kate Symons
Emma-Kate Symons
Emma-Kate Symons is a Paris-based journalist and columnist who has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, The New European and Reuters. Educated at the University of Sydney and Columbia University, Emma-Kate has reported from all over Europe, as well as from New York, Washington, Manila, Bangkok and Canberra.
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