Russian President Vladimir V. Putin kept returning to one message in his meandering two-hour interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson: Russia wants to negotiate a peace deal in Ukraine.
But in the wake of the long-awaited interview, that message seemed lost in the confusion.
The Russian leader’s discursive historical diatribes, touching on everything from the Rurik dynasty to the Golden Horde, dominated comments on the online interview and overshadowed the message he intended to convey to Americans.
In Russia on Friday, experts and even some of Mr. Putin’s allies were also wondering why he had neglected his main ideological common ground with Mr. Carlson’s supporters: opposition to LGBTQ rights and other liberal social causes.
Margarita Simonyan, director of Russian public broadcaster RT, lamented that Mr. Putin had neglected to present Russia as “a refuge for people who are not ready to send their children to be raised by LGBT people.”
“This is the only thing on which Russia can and must now build an ideology externally,” Ms. Simonyan said, accusing Mr. Carlson of not asking the right questions. “Just like the USSR once built it on the ideas of social equality.”
Instead, Mr. Putin spent much of the interview subjecting a bewildered Mr. Carlson to irredentist lecturing on 1,000 years of Eastern European history, leaving the former host of Fox News, by its own admission, “shocked”.
The result was a feeling that the Russian leader missed an opportunity.
“I guess he just didn’t try very hard,” Grigorii Golosov, a political science professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, said in a telephone interview. “If his goal was truly to explain himself – and that is what it appears to have been – then it is unlikely that he would have achieved that goal.”
Mr. Golosov said Mr. Putin’s main tactical goal was to try to force the West to reach a favorable deal to end the war – a deal that would consolidate Russia’s control over Ukrainian territory that it has already captured and, perhaps, would lead to a deeper conflict. Russia-friendly government in kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
“Putin believes that this is the best time to force the West to adopt what he sees as the natural way out of this situation,” Mr. Golosov said. “And that means direct negotiations with Russia, without Ukraine’s participation, on how to end the conflict on Russian terms.”
Between the historical diatribes, this intention was evident.
Mr. Putin presented the negotiations, on his terms, as a way out, now that the West has finally realized that Russia is not going to suffer a “strategic defeat” on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“This will never happen,” Mr. Putin said. “It seems to me that those in power in the West are now also aware of this. If this is the case, if awareness has set in, they need to think about what to do next. We are ready for this dialogue.
At another point he asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to reach an agreement with Russia?”
His speech comes at a particularly difficult time for Ukraine.
kyiv faces ammunition and personnel shortages, significant opposition to additional aid from Washington and the prospect of a Russia-friendly former president, Donald J. Trump, returning to the White House. A Western-backed counteroffensive intended to retake the territory last year failed, and military leaders are in the midst of a chaotic upheaval.
Mr. Putin offered an alternative to doubling support for Ukraine.
“He has positioned himself clearly in favor of the Republican right, trying to increase the number of votes against aid to Ukraine, trying to build or maintain support in that country for a negotiated solution on his terms. ” said Cliff Kupchan, President of the Eurasia Group. , a political risk consultancy. That said, he added, it was clearly not Mr. Putin’s “best performance.”
In Ukraine, where officials have been deeply skeptical of Mr. Putin’s willingness to negotiate in recent months – as Russian missile strikes have rained down on cities across the country – the suggestion has been dismissed as not very serious.
“Carlson’s interview with Putin is a two-hour marathon of illusions and fakes,” the Center for Strategic Communications, a Ukrainian government organization, said in a statement.
Ukrainian officials and commentators said they saw Mr. Putin’s overtures not as a desire for compromise, but rather as an effort to undermine Congressional support for military assistance, by suggesting that war could soon end. end with negotiations.
In the interview, Mr. Putin took the message of a possible settlement directly to the “masses of the Trump electorate” on influence US policy on Ukraine. finding an echo with Republicans opposed to aid.
The argument that the war could end through concessions to Russia, she said, “fits Trump’s rhetoric perfectly.”
Mr. Putin may see this year as the ideal time to strike a deal that would allow him to regroup and pursue more ambitious goals in Ukraine later. Although Russia has taken the initiative on the battlefield, it still faces significant limitations, as well as heavily fortified Ukrainian front lines. As a result, the Russian army is unlikely to invade Ukrainian territory and capture new major cities in the immediate future.
The content of Mr. Putin’s historical diatribes — designed to portray Ukraine as a fake country with no distinct identity — does not indicate a Russia willing to compromise.
The Ukrainian government noted that Mr. Putin never backed down from its maximalist demands, interpreting the goal of “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” Ukraine as stopping Western military assistance and installing a pro-Russian government in Kiev.
“We have already seen the film regarding his view of history and his complete avoidance of the fact that Ukraine became an internationally recognized country with sovereign borders in 1991,” said Mr. Kupchan, president of the Eurasia Group. “He sincerely believes that Ukraine belonged to him, that it belonged to him and that it will always belong to him. »
Andrew E. Kramer, Milana Mazaeva and Neil MacFarquhar contributed to this report.