As the American presidential elections are close, the conservative and far-right milieu is trying to reshape the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin. An eventual return of Donald Trump to the Presidency, they believe, will put an end to the war in Ukraine and favour the Russian positions.
In this context, Tucker Carlson, a popular conservative political commentator, met Putin for an interview. However, instead of doing an interview, the American commentator allowed the Russian authoritarian leader to deploy his narrative about the war in Ukraine and other issues. For example, he claimed Russia had become Europe’s largest economy despite sanctions, while Russia ranks 32nd in Europe for GDP (PPP) per capita.
Carlson’s role was limited in listening and asking some soft questions, leaving Putin deploying pure Soviet-kind disinformation!
Carlson avoided any tough questions. He didn’t ask, for example, why the Russian regime imprisons and persecutes other candidates who wish to take part in elections. He didn’t dare to ask why the media in Russia are all controlled by the government or about the crimes against civilians, including children, committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine.
Some of the lies Putin said during his two-hour monologue are blatant and easily detected. However, Putin talked a lot about “historical issues” that are not known by the wider public.
The war in Ukraine
Putin once more blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine. He repeated the myth of the alleged promises of the US and other Western leaders that NATO would not expand east. Putin’s NATO narrative claims the Alliance exploited Russian weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union to include countries from Central and Eastern Europe.
However, there was never such an agreement. Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, confirmed that in an interview with RBTH on October 16, 2014.
Until the Russian military occupation of Crimea in March 2014, there was virtually no stationing of any NATO combat forces on the territory of new members. Since March of this year, NATO has increased the presence of its military forces in the Baltic region and Central Europe. Thus, Russia’s aggressiveness provoked NATO’s presence in the area.
In addition, adherence to the Alliance is a free choice of independent states.
Putin also lied about Viktor Yanukovych‘s central role in the brutal use of force against pro-democracy protesters during the Maidan. Yanukovych, an ally of Putin, was then the President of Ukraine. Putin said protests turned violent, even though Yanukovych refused to use force against them. However, Yanukovych ordered Berkut, the special riot police, to brutally disperse protesters. Snipers sent by him shot dead 76 people in three days in February 2014.
Putin said two coups d’etat were committed in Ukraine to break its ties with Russia artificially. He referred to the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan protests in 2014. However, during the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians rigged elections intending to prevent Viktor Yushchenko from winning the majority of votes and becoming President. After the Maidan (Revolution of Dignity), Petro Poroshenko was democratically elected President.
The Russian President has claimed that in 2014, Moscow had to protect Crimea as it was under threat. However, there was no danger to Crimea during that time. The Revolution of Dignity resulted in a peaceful change of power through democratic elections. Then, Russia’s “little green men” arrived in Crimea to destabilise the situation in Ukraine.
Putin claimed that the Ukrainian government started the conflict in Donbas when it sent its air force against civilians. However, the conflict began on April 12 2014. That day, FSB officer Igor Girkin – also known as Igor Strelkov – led ‘separatists’ to seize the town of Sloviansk. Ukraine responded on May 26 in the battle for Donetsk Airport. Girkin has claimed personal responsibility for unleashing the conflict in an interview with Russia’s Zavtra, an extreme-right newspaper. The conflict cost the lives of 4,300 people between April and November 2014.
Putin said NATO considered to recognise Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine. However, the UN has declared the annexations illegal under international law.
He said NATO set its bases on the territory of Ukraine, but, there are no NATO bases on Ukraine’s territory as Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance.
Putin repeated that Ukrainians are, in reality, Russians, claiming that they ‘still consider themselves Russians’. However, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a politician and a leader of the Russian opposition who spent ten years in Russian prisons as a political prisoner, posted on X, “Putin fundamentally misunderstood Ukrainian national identity and falsely believed Ukrainians saw themselves as Russians, a key mistake that led to the disastrous invasion. A 2022 poll revealed 93% favor independence, just 3% support merging with Russia”.
According to Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is responsible for failed peace talks with Russia. The truth is that Zelenskyy refused to negotiate with Putin specifically. He said his country was ready for dialogue with Russia but with a different president. Moreover, the Russians called Kyiv for peace talks while attacking civilian targets, bombing schools and hospitals and killing Ukrainian citizens. Putin also told Carlson he would be prepared to negotiate peace with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but, at the same time, he said Russia had not yet achieved its aims in the country, including “de-Nazification”.
How Putin distorts history
Putin repeated that Ukraine was an artificial entity created at the initiative of Joseph Stalin. What a violation of historical events! Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union in 1922 when the Soviet leader was Vladimir Lenin. However, the Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared in 1917 – before the Bolsheviks seized power. The Russian provisional government had recognised its independence. Ukraine experienced a separate civil war which was more bloody than the one in Russia.
According to Putin’s narrative, Poland’s role was also instrumental in creating the Ukrainian national idea, as this idea of a separate nation emerged in Poland. However, self-defining Ukrainians as a separate ethnic group emerged in the 19th century, similar to other nation-building processes.
Putin said Poland was practically responsible for the beginning of World War Two because it didn’t accept Hitler’s plans of exterminating Poles (Slavs) and Jews and making Poland a German land. However, this argument was part of the Nazi propaganda at the time.
The Second Polish Republic refused Hitler’s claims and his proposal to form an alliance with Germany against the USSR. However, an agreement was signed between Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet authorities on 23 August 1939 (known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), which allowed Germany to attack Poland on 1 September 1939. Germany and Soviet Russia worked together until June 1941.
Putin said Zelenskyy’s father, Oleksandr, fought during the WW2. However, he was born in 1947, two years after the WW2 ended!
Are people ready to believe Putin’s lies?
As the historical experience shows, disinformation is strictly associated with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and parties. By spreading the false, repeating and repeating the same blatant lies, public opinion becomes disoriented, and the fake enters into the political debates in equal conditions with the truth. The result is the destabilisation of political systems, economies and societies.
The Russian school of disinformation has deep roots, at least in the Soviet era. The Stalinist era, the Cold War period, and then the post-Soviet Russia relied on absurdity to push their unrealistic claims.
However, in Western countries, some politicians and political parties were always ready to adopt and traffic the Soviet lies. Also, today, there are political parties in the EU member states – a considerable part of the European far-right together with leftist parties in France and Greece – that support in one way or another Russia and the Putin regime.
On February 8, the European Parliament expressed its concern about Russia providing narratives to far-right parties and actors across the EU to subvert support for Ukraine and continuous efforts to undermine European democracy through various forms of interference and disinformation. The Parliament then adopted a resolution with 433 votes in favour, 56 against and 18 abstentions.