Author: Luka Chitiani


On February 8, Tucker Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, recorded an interview with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The journalist’s arrival in Moscow caused a stir from the get-go. A photo of Carlson in the Opera House was released, and led to the impression that Tucker, unlike other critical journalists, was favoured by the Kremlin, and, as such, there was an early expectation that his interview with Putin would be devoid of critical questions and would be more a way for Putin to spread his propaganda messages.

Indeed, almost nothing new was said in the interview. Rather, it became an amalgamation of already widespread and further scattered propaganda narratives. In fact, all messages that could possibly be considered strategically beneficial to spread through Putin’s mouth were broadcast.

This blog will review the issues that were manipulated by Putin during the Tucker Carlson interview and will analyse the nature of that manipulation, as well as the hidden goals that prompted the Kremlin to record the interview.

Manipulation of history

Manipulation of history and the distortion of facts is already a tradition for the President of Russia. Accordingly, a considerable part of his interview with Tucker Carlson was devoted to falsifying history, most notably the lie that Poland was a coloniser. The spreading of such a message is related to the country’s helping Ukraine. Poland not only helps Ukraine financially and with weapons, but also serves as a logistical hub for transferring Western aid to Ukraine. Further, their completely justified and logically negative attitude towards Russia is widely known. Yet, Putin went as far as justifying Hitler when he said Poland had become “a victim of its own policy,” and thus, “Hitler had no choice but to start a war.” The Polish MFA was quick to respond to Putin’s groundless claims. In their response, the Poles touched on not only on the disinformation spread against their country, but also on issues related to Ukraine.

Neglecting Ukraine’s sovereignty

Putin continues to ignore Ukraine’s statehood. In the interview, he refused to recognise the results of the Euromaidan protests and did not even mention the citizens killed by snipers on Yanukovich’s orders. He then connected the events that took place in 2014 with the threats to Crimea and the presence of NATO bases in Ukraine. In addition to the fact that this information is unequivocally untrue, both excuses were neutralised in the response of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ukraine’s independence is so unacceptable to Putin that at the end of the interview, in a serious, sentimental tone, he claimed that, deep down, “spiritually”, Ukrainians consider themselves Russians. As an example of this, he suggested the Ukrainians used to shout during battle that the Russians never give up. Of course, Ukrainian fighters, even without the help of the West, have fought with dedication against a numerically much larger enemy, and therefore, any talk or implication that without Western directives, Ukrainians would have received Russia in a friendly manner simply does not correspond to reality.

During the interview, Putin actively tried to present himself as an invincible leader. Moreover, he tried to convincingly express the opinion that the capture of Kyiv depended on the will of the Russian army, as if they, in withdrawing, had chosen to resolve the “conflict” peacefully with negotiations so as not to appear to be “holding a gun to Kyiv’s head”. Obviously, the fact that Kyiv is free today is the result of the heroic dedication of the Ukrainians and that the Russian army faced logistical problems. The capture of Kyiv was the strategic goal of the Russians from the beginning, and that was what their blitzkrieg sought. Therefore, Russia’s retreat from its positions around the capital was undoubtedly not a voluntary move.

Holes in the narrative

The interview is saturated with contradictory messages. Putin still stubbornly refused to admit that the war is continuing despite the fact that Russia has lost almost 400,000 soldiers, and claimed that the “operation” in 2022 started precisely to end the war. On the other hand, he stated that the goal remains the “denazification” of Ukraine, while also claiming he is ready to start peace talks, although those who want war are preventing the start of the peace process.” This was followed by a statement that if the West stopped helping, “everything” would be over in a week. Of course, distortion of reality is nothing new for the Russian elite; however, making so many contradictory statements in this short, two-hour period may have a negative impact on the credibility of the propaganda.

Exchange of detainees

Putin was “disturbed” when talking about how Russia’s “patriot” FSB killer Vadim Krasikov, who killed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili – one of the leaders in the Chechen war and a citizen of Georgia, had been arrested by the West. Putin cited Krasikov’s patriotic spirit as an excuse for the murder; however, according to Bellingcat’s investigation, the FSB’s elite department “V” (formerly Vympel) was behind the assassination. It was for Krasikov that Putin offered the exchange of The Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich. It should be noted that Gershkovich was also intended to be included in the interview: In the short videos recorded before and after the interview, Carlson did not mention the harassment and persecution of journalists in Russia. Indeed, in both the above-mentioned cases, and during the interview itself, he actively discredited the Western media, agreeing with Putin’s accusation that the majority of the media is controlled by Western financial institutions (a popular conspiracy theory). And yet, at the end of the interview, he suddenly raised the issue of Gershkovich’s release. However, for Carlson, the main argument was not Gershkovich’s innocence and unjustified repression, but his age. As such, this question was also turned in Putin’s favour: On the one hand, Putin was given the opportunity to talk about Gershkovich’s “crimes” for a few minutes, albeit without specific arguments, and on the other, the above-mentioned exchange offer was put on the table.

Manipulation of numbers

Another significant fact is Putin’s manipulation of economic data. Back in December, it was announced that despite the sanctions, Russia’s economy is continuing to grow, having become the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. The specificity of the propaganda messages spread by Russia as part of its information war is that the message is almost never exclusively false, with foundations that can in part be found in reality. It is on this principle that Putin and other government officials use GDP purchasing power parity (PPP) to measure economic success. Purchasing power parity is a methodology for equalising different currencies; it provides a more in-depth picture of relative data, such as the standard of living, but cannot provide an accurate picture of absolute data, such as the size of the economy. Therefore, Putin will have to accept Russia’s being in 11th place. At the same time, it is on the basis of a similar criterion that Putin declared China to be the largest economy in the world, which again leads to the above-mentioned flaw. In fact, as of 2022, America alone has an economy that is larger than China, Russia, and Iran combined, and about $5 trillion remains free.

The goal and impact of the interview

The messages in the interview were well suited to American society; more specifically, to the conservative segment. Putin specifically expressed a positive attitude towards the Republican presidents Trump and Bush, which, to a certain extent, can be perceived as support for the Republican candidate. This was no accident, as the American presidential elections are scheduled for November 2024. Given that the majority of Carlson’s audience is also Republican, getting the narrative across to the target audience thus proved very easy. Indeed, according to one report, 20 million people watched the interview in just the first two hours.

For propaganda to work effectively, not only its content but also the period in which it is spread is important. In this sense, the timing of the interview was well chosen. The context in which narratives are voiced in America creates fertile ground for the spread of disinformation and propaganda. America is in an election year, and the legislative bodies are divided; there is tension in Texas, and the narrative of civil war is being actively created and intensified based on foreign intervention. Although, to most of the audience, Putin presented himself as lost in a false history, the opinions expressed in the video can be freely used as a source for propagandistic material because, as mentioned above, the main Russian propaganda messages are well summarised there. Equally important is the fact that the narratives are expressed by an authoritative person, which gives more weight for “useful idiots” and “Trolls” to push their agenda. As a result, demands for an end to the war will likely increase, and Republicans and Trump supporters will become even more stubborn.

Putin’s message about the weakening of the US dollar was also aimed at the American audience. According to Putin, the imposition of sanctions was a critical mistake for the United States, leading to a slump in the global use of the currency and so the “weakening” of the United States. Yet, to support his argument, Putin only cites Russia as an example. When he tells Carlson how he simply replaced the dollar with the Chinese renminbi, this message is intended to create anti-sanction sentiment among Americans and reinforce the myth that sanctions are more damaging to the West than to Russia. At the same time, the nature of Kyiv’s surrender, discussed above, can be felt in this narrative, since, in reality, it was not Russia’s choice to move away from the dollar it was forced to switch to the Chinese renminbi due to the sanctions. Moreover, according to reports, to purchase “Shahed drones”, Russia was forced to settle its account with Iran with gold bars.

Another goal sought by Putin in the interview was to activate new conspiracy theories and to strengthen existing ones. He repeatedly mentioned the “golden billion” (one of his favourite conspiracy theories) and their privileges, and emphasised the need to end their domination. Here, the spotlight was shone on positioning Russia as a leader in the Global South. Several times during the interview, Putin narrates incomplete information and calls on the viewers to take up their own investigation of the issues. This is a fairly common tactic to bolster the credibility of conspiracy theories, with “crumbs” laid in a way so as to lead one to a specific place or piece of information, after the discovery of which, one is left with the feeling that they perhaps know more than those around them. After that, it becomes quite difficult to convince them to return to the facts. Given that Putin’s primary target audience is Trump voters, it is likely that the breadcrumb tactic will be effective in fueling conspiratorial beliefs. According to a British study, Trump voters are more interested in conspiracy theories than other segments. Thus, as already mentioned, the ground for propaganda is indeed fertile.


Tucker Carlson’s interview is unique in that, despite many requests, Putin had previously refused to meet with any Western media representatives. However, this does not necessarily reflect positively on the interview. As noted in the blog, the interview was devoid of criticism, and became simply a convenient platform for Putin to spread his propaganda, seeing him using almost every technique from the Russian propaganda playbook, among which was the fake history narrative about Ukraine and Poland, and manipulating the numbers and narratives of the Gershkowitz question and economic data. In the interview, rhetoric was actively employed in a clear attempt to deepen polarisation within American society.

The views put forward by Putin, however wrong they may be, have yet to be challenged. Putin was able to push his own malign narratives to the audience in a way that was most convenient way to him. In addition, mass feedback was generated about the interview a fundamentally important aspect of the effectiveness of disinformation, whereby disseminators do not need to create invalid arguments, but just have as many people as possible consider the lie, even in a negative context, because, in the end, it will settle in a particular group of society and prepare the ground for more intense propaganda. Such direct attempts at intervention by actors of harmful influence once again emphasise the need to strengthen the informational resilience of society.