Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has worked for decades to win allies in the West, using his spy agencies to interfere in elections and deploying diplomats to establish ties with Kremlin-friendly politicians.
On Thursday, the world witnessed a wordy new chapter in those efforts: Mr. Putin’s two-hour interview, recorded in a gilded room in the Kremlin, with one of the most prominent and controversial conservative commentators of America.
Speaking to Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, Mr Putin called on the United States to “make a deal” to cede Ukrainian territory to Russia to end the war. He sought to appeal directly to American conservatives just as Republican lawmakers are blocking aid to Ukraine on Capitol Hill, echoing arguments from politicians like former President Donald J. Trump who say the U.S. have more urgent priorities than a thousand-day war. miles away.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Mr. Putin responded to Mr. Carlson’s question about the possibility of American soldiers fighting in Ukraine. “You have border problems, migration problems, national debt problems. Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia?
Much of the interview constitutes a familiar Kremlin history lesson in Russia’s historic claim to Eastern European lands, starting in the 9th century, which Mr. Putin has done little to effort to distill to American ears. He spoke on artificial intelligence, Genghis Khan and the Roman Empire. He also laid out his spurious and hackneyed justifications for invading Ukraine, claiming that Russia’s goal was to “end this war” that he says the West is waging against Russia.
But Mr. Putin was more direct than usual about how he envisioned his invasion of Ukraine ending: not with a military victory, but with a deal with the West. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Putin told Mr. Carlson that the time had come to discuss ending the war because “those in power in the West have realized” that Russia will not be defeated on the battlefield.
“If that is the case, if awareness has set in, they need to think about what to do next. We are ready for this dialogue,” Mr Putin said.
Responding to Mr. Carlson’s question about whether NATO could accept Russian control over parts of Ukraine, Mr. Putin said: “Let them think about how to do it with dignity.” There are options if there is a will.
The original Russian version of Mr. Putin’s comments was not immediately released, forcing viewers to rely on the dubbed translation from Mr. Carlson’s show.
The interview, conducted on Tuesday, was Mr. Putin’s first with a Western media outlet since the start of his full-scale war in Ukraine and the first with an American media outlet since 2021. While Mr. Putin regularly gave interviews to major American media in his first two decades in power, his spokesperson said that the Kremlin chose Mr. Carlson this time because these mainstream media took “an exclusively one-sided position” toward Russia.
Mr. Putin extended an olive branch to the West, rather than resorting to the fiery rhetoric he employed to domestic audiences. Given Mr. Carlson’s opportunity to expand on his efforts to portray Russia as a defender of “traditional values” against what he often describes as a degenerate and declining West, the Russian president was unusually restrained. “Western society is more pragmatic,” he said. “The Russian people think more about the eternal and about moral values.”
He added that “there is nothing wrong with” the Western way, noting that it has led to “good successes in production, even in the scientific field.” This echoes Mr. Putin’s assertion over the past two years that his conflict is not with the West as a whole, but with a ruling elite seeking to preserve its global hegemony.
The release of the interview on Thursday follows days of breathless anticipation in Russia’s official news media, which documented Mr. Carlson’s every step in Moscow – right down to the double cheeseburgers he allegedly ordered at an old McDonald’s. The media hype has laid bare the Kremlin’s continued aspiration to woo Western audiences, despite Mr. Putin’s intermittent threats to use nuclear weapons and Russia’s arrest last year of an American journalist, Evan Gershkovich.
Mr. Putin addressed both issues in the interview, apparently seeking to show that Moscow and Washington can find common ground. He told Carlson that Russia had no interest in attacking countries on NATO’s eastern flank, unlike warnings from some Western officials.
“We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Mr Putin said. “This is simply a threatening campaign.”
Mr Carlson urged Mr Putin to release Mr Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent whom Russia arrested last year on espionage charges that the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Mr. Putin said “dialogue continues” over his fate, suggesting the Kremlin was waiting for a favorable offer from the United States to release him in a prisoner swap.
Overall, Mr. Putin’s appearance underscored his tactical confidence as his adversaries face a moment of vulnerability: Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, additional military aid is blocked in Congress American and pro-Kremlin politicians are ascendant on both sides of the Atlantic. Chief among those politicians is Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate whom Mr. Carlson frequently praises but did not ask about in the interview.
This confluence of circumstances means that the interview with Mr. Carlson comes at a time when Mr. Putin is feeling his “finest hour,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.
Mr. Putin’s current goal, Ms. Stanovaya said, appears to be to reach a peace deal in Ukraine that would consolidate Russia’s control over territory it has already captured and to install a friendly government in Kiev. , the Ukrainian capital. But to achieve this, Mr. Putin appears to believe that he needs the United States to pressure Ukraine into negotiations on ending the war, rather than continuing to resist the invasion. Russian.
“He thinks he now has a window of opportunity,” she said.
Indeed, Mr. Putin repeatedly predicted in the interview that the war would end through diplomacy, but that the United States must first stop sending military aid to Ukraine and convince Ukrainian leaders to negotiate.
“You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to the negotiating table,” Mr. Putin said. A few minutes later, he added: “This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the internal problems – sooner or later it will lead to an agreement. »
But it was far from certain that the message would reach the American public. Instead, many viewers were amazed by the length of Mr. Putin’s monologue on Russian history at the start of the interview – views already familiar from years of speaking and writing Of the president. Mr. Putin has touched on topics such as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the arrival of Christianity in Eastern Europe in an attempt to justify his territorial claims in Ukraine.
“He didn’t say anything new,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York and a great-granddaughter of Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev. Russians are used to her history classes, she continued, but American viewers “must be going crazy with all this historical verbosity.”
Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.