Espreso. Global

Putin's interview: main highlights. Column by Vitaly Portnikov

9 February, 2024 Friday

Even before the interview that Russian leader Vladimir Putin gave to conservative American commentator Tucker Carlson, it was said that no special sensations should be expected. Simply because Putin will not change much on the political agenda

The only sensation was the attention paid to Tucker Carlson's arrival by Russian officials and propagandists. It was obvious how much Russia needs the attention of the West, even the West that Tucker Carlson represents. Or perhaps, above all, the attention of the West that is conservative and incapable of understanding the essence of Russian imperial policy. After all, in this case, Russia can associate itself with such a West. 

Let's not forget that since his attack on Ukraine in February 2022, Vladimir Putin has not given a single interview to leading Western media, and has not met with American journalists since 2021. Therefore, it might have seemed important what Putin could say to an American commentator who was obviously loyal to him and tried to use this interview (as happened after its publication) to further attack the current American leadership, led by President Joe Biden.

For Carlson, the conversation with Putin was another element of the election campaign of his hero, former US President Donald Trump. Many believed that it was with Carlson that Putin would try to convey signals to Trump about how he saw the end of Russia's war with Ukraine.

Those who believed that such signals would indeed come were right. It is just that these signals are not very different from Putin's general view of international law and how his war with Ukraine can end. What Putin said first and foremost when he addressed this to the West is that it is up to Russia and the United States (he often used the acronym NATO) to decide how to end the war with Ukraine. And to force the Ukrainian political leadership to such an end. Putin has repeatedly said that it is up to the NATO countries to decide what their vision of Russia retaining control of the occupied territories of Ukraine will look like. In other words, it is not even Putin who has to save face in this situation, but the NATO member states who have to take care of saving face. 

Putin also stressed that an alternative to such a sober position on the part of NATO could be the globalisation of the conflict. On the one hand, he stressed that Russia has no desire to attack the Baltic states or Poland, and on the other hand, he said that if Poland attacks Russia, they will repel it. Vladimir Putin used almost the same phraseology before preparing to attack Ukraine.

It is worth recalling that in this interview, Putin also said several times that it was Ukraine that started the war, and Russia was only trying to end it. Therefore, his words that he is ready to respond to Poland's alleged aggression, which he invented himself, should be assessed in this light. Allegedly, if NATO does not agree to the terms that Putin might offer to Donald Trump, the Russian leader might consider how to attack NATO member states. Although this looks like primitive blackmail, which Putin has been doing all his political life. 

As for any specifics in this conversation, we did not see any more. The Putin before Carlson was the same Putin who has probably been forgotten by Western politicians who had constant contact with him before his big attack on Ukraine. The long historical lecture that Putin gave to Carlson, even with the demonstration of some copies of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's letters that he gave to his American interlocutor, reminded me of the long historical lectures that the Russian leader gave to French President Emmanuel Macron when he came to Moscow to prevent a major Russian war with Ukraine. And Macron is known to have been stunned by the fact that instead of real substantive negotiations on the merits of the issue, Putin was trying to lull him to sleep with historical talk. The level of these historical conversations is that of a first-year student of history, a person in Russia who has uncritically read the works of Russian chauvinistic historians and does not even try to comprehend them. This is basically the intellectual level of Vladimir Putin as such.

This is yet another proof that when you appoint a junior officer of the Russian State Security Committee, and before that of the Soviet Union, to a top position in the Russian Federation, you have to be aware of the level of limited intelligence of such a person. He can, of course, learn how to conduct skilful military operations, assassinations, wars, but he cannot become an intellectual person simply because he has not been given any ability to engage in such intellectual activity.

And Vladimir Putin has never had this ability, does not have it now, and will not have it in the foreseeable future. Moreover, we can already see certain mental disorders. 

Therefore, when we talk about a history lecture, we must realise that this is simply a technique of recruiting an interlocutor that Putin always uses in his conversations with representatives of the Western world. And it makes no difference whether it is with liberals or ultra-conservatives. There is nothing behind these historical stories except to put the interlocutor in a difficult situation and make him lose the real thread of the conversation. This is absolutely the logic of interrogation.

When Putin told Tucker Carlson that he had spoken to Volodymyr Zelenskyy about his father, who fought against Nazism (and as we know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy's father was born in 1947), this already indicates a certain uncontrollability of the information that Putin publicly releases to the world. After all, in order to compare these facts and understand that the Russian leader is either lying or has lost some control over reality, you can simply open Wikipedia. There is no need to engage in historical research, as in the case of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's letters. On the other hand, what is the significance of these letters? We understand that all of Putin's historical research is intended to camouflage his unwillingness to adhere to the principles of international law. Here, too, Putin is following his usual path: he says that the West does not respect international law (and cites the example of NATO's special operation against the Slobodan Milošević regime in Serbia), so why should Russia? This is the logic of a criminal gang member, which is exactly what Putin is. This is also not a new trick of Vladimir Putin's in his conversation with Western interlocutors. But here, it was demonstrated with even greater clarity so that Carlson could demonstrate his positions to the civilised world. 

We understand perfectly well the choice of Tucker Carlson, who also demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of the material he is working with. Although even he could not restrain his laughter several times over some of Putin's statements. In any case, he was looking at the interlocutor with sincere astonishment, as if he were a creature who should be treated with respect, but he could not. We understand that even in such a situation, Putin needs comfort; he cannot stand even a little bit of criticism. The fact that this interview began with the words "Is this a political show or a serious conversation?" in response to Tucker Carlson's sarcastic remarks about the elderly Russian dictator also shows Putin's entire inferiority complex.

On the one hand, the Russian leader wants the attention of the civilised world, but on the other hand, he does not receive the respect he expects in connection with his criminal actions. On the one hand, he wants Russia to be considered a superpower and to be treated as an equal by the US president or EU leaders, and on the other hand, he is obviously worried that he has become an outcast in the civilised world, despite all his attempts to prove that he is happy with cooperation with China in this situation. 

In any case, those commentators who emphasise that Russians hear all this Putin nonsense all the time, every time the Russian president appears in public are right.The only difference is that now the Americans have heard it all.And, of course, if Donald Trump dreams of negotiating with Vladimir Putin, he must realise a simple thing: the Russian president is not going to return to any civilised framework. He expects his interlocutors to agree with the idea that Russia's destruction of international law should be the only possible platform for such talks, even if one imagines that the Russian-Ukrainian war ends in the foreseeable future.

About the author. Vitaliy Portnikov, journalist, winner of the Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the authors of the blogs. 

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