Analysis: Why Vladimir Putin came out on top after interview with Tucker Carlson

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with US television host Tucker Carlson in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with US television host Tucker Carlson in Moscow. Photo credit: Reuters / Tucker Carlson Network (via CNN).

By Oliver Darcy for CNN

ANALYSIS: It's evident now why Vladimir Putin granted an interview to Tucker Carlson.

Over the course of the more than two-hour sit-down, the former Fox News host turned online commentator largely refrained from challenging the Russian authoritarian, whose brutal war on Ukraine has led to the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Those expecting a hard-hitting face-off will have surely walked away sorely disappointed by the long-winded and rambling interview, in which Tucker himself at times appeared lost.

Instead of pressing Putin on the many topics at hand, including credible accusations Russia has committed war crimes and the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Carlson allowed the autocrat a free lane to manipulate the public and tell his version of history, no matter how deceptive it may have been.

At times, between the airing of grievances, Putin appeared to school Carlson on historical events as the host looked on in bewilderment.

Or to put it more plainly, Carlson provided Putin a platform to spread his propaganda to a global audience with little to no scrutiny of his claims.

"What you see from watching the first 45 minutes of this, is that this is President Putin's platform," Clarissa Ward, CNN's chief international correspondent, remarked, adding that it was "clear from the very beginning" of the interview that Carlson did "not have control."

In some cases, Carlson even fed into Putin's narratives. For instance, Putin advanced an absurd deep state-style conspiracy theory that the U.S. government is not controlled by its elected leaders but by unelected powers at the Central Intelligence Agency who direct the president like a puppet from the shadows.

"So, twice you've described US presidents making decisions and then being undercut by their agency heads," Carlson said after Putin made the assertion, earnestly summing up the Russian leader's mendacious narrative. "So it sounds like you're describing a system that's not run by the people who are elected, in your telling?"

"That's right, that's right," Putin replied.

Carlson never followed up to challenge the absurdity.

It was a massive propaganda victory for Putin, who can — and will – now twist the encounter for his own ends. If there was any doubt that Putin did not view the sit-down with Carlson as a big win, a glance at how his own state-run media covered the affair should erase it.

Immediately after Carlson published the chat online, Putin's mouthpieces rushed to amplify it.

TASS featured the sit-down as the top story on its homepage, amplifying Putin's claim that Ukraine is an "artificial state" and devoting an entire section of its website to special coverage of the interview.

RT, the English-language broadcaster now exiled from much of the Western world, aired significant swaths of the interview on its air.


None of this should come as any surprise.

While Carlson was once a critic of the Russian government, in recent years he has been far more sympathetic to the Putin-led state, dragging the GOP with him. Carlson's commentary on Russia's brutal war on Ukraine has been anything but favorable toward Kiev, with the right-wing extremist even likening Volodymyr Zelensky to vermin last year.

Which is precisely why Putin agreed to the interview with Carlson, while actual journalists who would have pressed the Russian leader on a range of critical issues, have been denied access for years.

You don't have to take our word for it, either. Putin's own spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters this week that Carlson was selected because he "has a position that is different from the rest" of Western media.

There was one moment, however, in which Carlson did gently press Putin. At the end of the interview, Carlson asked Putin if he would be "willing to release" Evan Gershkovich, the imprisoned reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Putin declined to release Gershkovich now, to which Carlson said, "He's a kid, and maybe he was breaking your law in some way, but he's not a super spy and everybody knows that."

While Carlson did advocate for the immediate release of Gershkovich, his remark did not go over well at The Journal. Ted Mann, a reporter at the newspaper, wrote on X that it was "disgraceful of Carlson to suggest Evan was 'breaking [their] law.'"

"He wasn't," Mann added. "Carlson knows that. Evan is a law-abiding, decent reporter being held hostage for geopolitical leverage. He should be released immediately."

The Journal also released a statement following the interview.

"Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction," the newspaper said. "Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release."