COMMENTARY by Susan Katz Keating
What should we make of Tucker Carlson’s sit-down with Vladimir Putin?
Western reactions are all over the map, with some praising and others damning both Carlson and Putin. Pro-Russian writers in the overseas “samizdat” offered biting commentary.
“This whole interview was just pure Putin — mewling, moralizing and finger-wagging at the people lobbing missiles at Russians,” wrote the man who runs The Slavland Chronicles on Substack.
For the rest of us, here are some things to consider while watching the interview.
Backdrop: Both the U.S. and Russia are holding presidential elections this year. Vladimir Putin is up first, and is guaranteed to win. But he needs a smooth transition. The war in Ukraine is deeply important to him, mainly for what he failed to accomplish. After two years at war, his three-day “Special Military Operation” is getting more difficult to justify, particularly to the families of the fallen.
Current Factors: There are signs of strain at the highest levels of the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy replaced the army’s top commander, saying it was time for “renewed leadership” of the armed forces. In Russia, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gersaimov, has not been seen in public since December 29. Russian Admiral Viktor Sokolov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, has not been seen since late September.
Fears: Will Russia continue to wage a battle of attrition against an enemy that has a better but smaller fighting force? Will Ukraine increasingly be the clever David against a stationary Goliath, striking Russian targets with precision? Inside Russia, there has been an uptick in mysterious fires and explosions. Has Ukraine been targeting sites inside Russia?
Is Putin worried that Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov is ginning up his own power moves by claiming to command a vast and fresh force that could be used against… whomever Kadyrov choses?
Inside the U.S., will the war become more contentious among voters and politicians?
How Tucker Factors In: The interview sends a signal that Putin wants to be heard, and is willing to talk – albeit on his own turf and under carefully controlled circumstances. It also gives Putin the opportunity to get in his swipes against Zelensky.
Russia’s state media organ, TASS, claimed on Thursday that U.S. media was biased.
“On Tuesday, Carlson announced that he would seek an interview with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, as all the previous interviews of the Ukrainian leader with US media outlets were not journalism, but propaganda,” TASS wrote.
Tucker’s Trip to Russia: Tucker says he himself paid for the trip to Moscow. This is not a minor point. Several years ago, people affiliated with the Russian government asked if I would write about an event in Moscow. My prospective hosts offered to send me a plane ticket, and to put me up in a hotel. I said I would like to cover the event, and would pay for everything myself and arrange my own transportation and lodging. The latter is particularly important. If the Russians don’t control where you stay, it will be more cumbersome for them to install microphones and cameras in your room. My invitation was withdrawn.
Foreigners who visit Russia, however, must be invited in order to get a visa. Who invited Tucker and crew to Russia, and what type of visas did they get?
What Tucker Said: In the video promoting his Putin interview, Tucker made points about journalism and the need to examine the issues. In terms of Russia, he said the following:
“Most Americans are not informed. They have no idea what’s happening in this region.”
But that includes what’s going on inside Russian society, which is not universally pro-Putin. In the English-language Russian samizdat blogs, pro-Russian writers make fun of Putin. The Slavlands Chronicles, had this to say about him:
Putin literally whines about the same stuff over and over and over again. He never says anything particularly fun or interesting. But you wouldn’t know this because of all the fake news and fake translations.
The Main Audience: Tucker scheduled the interview to go live at 6 p.m. in Washington, D.C. The Russian audience had to watch it in the wee hours, or later.
Takeaways: To be determined. More to come…
Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief of Soldier of Fortune.