When Tucker met Vladimir: did we learn anything about Putin's thinking?

Kremlin leader accused Boris Johnson of sabotaging Ukraine peace deal, insisted Russian defeat was impossible but denied plan to expand war into 'global conflict'

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to US talk show host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 6, 2024
Putin claimed the war in Ukraine would be over 'within a few weeks' if Western allies stopped sending weapons
(Image credit: Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, Vladimir Putin agreed to an interview with a Western journalist, offering a rare window into the mindset of a reclusive pariah. 

The occasion provoked a furore of both interest and criticism, largely focused on the controversial choice of ex-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson as interviewer.

But from the "two-hour, hotly anticipated interview", filmed in Moscow and published on "the far-right commentator's website" on Thursday, "nuggets of Putin-think emerged", said Politico

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What did the commentators say?

Putin "agreed to this chat from a position of relative strength", said the BBC's Eastern Europe correspondent Sarah Rainsford. Ukraine's counteroffensive has "stalled", Kyiv's Western allies have been "dithering over continued military aid, especially the US", while the Ukraine's President Zelenskyy has sacked his popular commander-in-chief of the armed forces. "The situation is precarious."

That could explain why Putin – who "lectured, joked and occasionally snarled" – was "fully in charge of this encounter". Carlson "barely got a word in", Rainsford said. 

Putin delivered a 30-minute "romp" through "counterfactual history", said The Daily Telegraph's deputy US editor, Rozina Sabur, before offering his thoughts on "the future of mankind". 

He stressed the need for "an international agreement" on regulations to address the threat "from unbridled and uncontrolled development of AI or genetics". Putin "clearly feels one man is making leaps and bounds" towards the creation of a specialised superhuman, said Sabur: Elon Musk.

Putin also "repeated claims that Boris Johnson sabotaged a peace deal with Ukraine" in 2022, which the former UK prime minister has denied as "total nonsense". 

"Prime Minister Johnson came to talk us out of it and we missed that chance," said Putin. "Well, you missed it." The Russian leader blamed Johnson's "arrogance": he acted "because of a pure heart", said Putin, "but not because of a great mind".

Carlson also asked Putin about the attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in 2022, "prompting a curious exchange" between the two, said Politico. 

"Who blew up Nord Stream?" Carlson asked. Putin responded: "You for sure." When Carlson said he was "busy that day", Putin "jokingly parried back that while Carlson personally had an alibi for the day of the bombings, the CIA had none". Putin presented no evidence for the accusation, which the US has repeatedly denied.

Putin warned that Russian defeat in Ukraine was "impossible by definition", but he "insisted he does not seek to expand the war to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Lativa", said Al Jazeera.

He denied that he had "territorial ambitions across Europe, and insisted he would only send troops into neighbouring countries if attacked first". 

"It is absolutely out of the question," he said. "You just don't have to be any kind of analyst, it goes against common sense to get involved in some kind of a global war." And global war, he said, "will bring humanity to the brink of devastation".

"It was all classic Putin," said Rainsford, and Carlson "let him roll with it".

What next?

There was "plenty of swagger" from Putin about how Russia is "ready for dialogue" and "willing to negotiate" on Ukraine, said Rainsford. 

Putin insisted "relations between the two peoples will be rebuilt". But he added that Moscow had not yet achieved its purported invasion goals, including the "de-Nazification" of Ukraine. 

To the West, he said: "If you really want to stop fighting, you need to stop supplying weapons. It will be over within a few weeks. That's it. And then we can agree on some terms. Before you do that, stop."

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