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Assessing Claims by Vladimir Putin in His Interview With Tucker Carlson
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Assessing Claims by Vladimir Putin in His Interview With Tucker Carlson

The Russian president made a series of false or misleading statements.

(Photo via the Tucker Carlson Network)

In an interview lasting more than two hours, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson sat down with Vladimir Putin in what was the Russian president’s first major interview with a Western journalist since his country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The discussion—which began with a lengthy Putin monologue reviewing centuries of Russian history—covered many of the topics on which Putin has propagandized for decades, such as the allegedly artificial construction of the modern Ukrainian nation, supposed U.S.-led coups in support of Western interests, and the ostracization of Russia by the West after the fall of the Soviet Union. Many of Putin’s points were outright false, and the interview omitted essential information related to many of his claims. So, which of the Russian president’s answers were the most questionable? We’ll take on a few of them here, relying on the transcript of the conversation made available by the Tucker Carlson Network.

The 2014 ‘Coup’ in Ukraine

While Putin considers the question of Ukrainian nationhood—or lack thereof—rooted in centuries of Russian history, he blames much of the current conflict on 2013 and 2014 Euromaidan protests and the Revolution of Dignity. “In 2014, there was a coup,” Putin told Carlson. “[Ukraine] started persecuting those who did not accept the coup, and it was indeed a coup. [Ukraine] created the threat to Crimea, which we had to take under our protection. [Ukraine] launched the war in Donbas in 2014 with the use of aircraft and artillery against civilians. This is when it all started.” Carlson asked who the “coup” was backed by. 

“With the backing of CIA, of course,” Putin responded.

It benefits Putin politically to describe the Revolution of Dignity as a coup, but the reality of what transpired is much more complex.

The 2014 Euromaidan protests began after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, which would have strengthened ties between the EU and Ukraine and established a comprehensive free trade agreement between the two. The agreement had sailed through the Ukrainian parliament in February of that year, but Yanukovych backed away from the proposal despite having originally supported it. Initial protests against Yanukovych’s decision in late 2013 were peaceful, but tensions flared in January 2014 after a set of repressive new laws restricted rights of protest. By the end of February, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine for Russia and the parliament voted to oust him from office, though the constitutionality of the measures taken by the Ukrainian parliament is still debated. New elections were scheduled for May, when oligarch Petro Poroshenko won victory.

The Kremlin has repeatedly described the 2014 ousting of Yanukovych as a coup, and even orchestrated a complex disinformation operation to support secession movements in Crimea. After Yanukovych’s departure, Russian military forces and separatist militias in Crimea invaded Crimea on February 27, 2014, seized key facilities, and then held a sham referendum in March resulting in the peninsula’s annexation. These actions violated the 1991 post-Soviet Belavezha Accords accepting then-existing borders, commitments made in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, and the 1997 Ukrainian-Russian Treaty of Friendship.

“There were free elections in Ukraine after the revolution, in which Petro Poroshenko came to power who had no role in the revolution, who was an oligarch, who was not particularly friendly with the West, and who actually had quite tight ties with Russia,” Peter Dickinson, a Ukraine and Russia expert at the Atlantic Council told The Dispatch Fact Check. “That’s an obvious issue with the whole narrative of this coup.”

Nazi Ideology in Ukraine

Another point reinforced by Putin in the interview was the need for “de-Nazification” in Ukraine. According to Putin, after gaining independence, Ukraine adopted a national identity built upon “false heroes who collaborated with Hitler.” Because of this, Putin says, the modern Ukrainian state is rooted in Nazi ideology.

Putin is not entirely incorrect that Ukraine has a complicated history with Nazism: The country has erected statues and named streets after a number of Ukrainian nationalists—such as Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych—who collaborated with Nazi forces during World War II. Likewise, modern Ukraine has struggled to address neo-Nazi sympathy, including in some of its far-right political parties and volunteer battalions. Putin overstates these links, however, and even blatantly misrepresents an event in the Canadian Parliament as a key point of evidence for modern Nazi sympathies in Ukraine.

“The president of Ukraine visited Canada. … The Canadian Parliament introduced the man who, as the speaker of the Parliament said, fought against the Russians during World War II,” Putin told Carlson. “Well, who fought against the Russians during World War II? Hitler and his accomplices. And it turned out that this man served in the SS troops, he personally killed Russians, Poles, and Jews. … The president of Ukraine stood up with the entire Parliament of Canada and applauded this man. How can this be imagined?”

The Dispatch Fact Check addressed a similar claim by Vivek Ramaswamy in November, explaining that the Ukrainian delegation was unaware of the veteran’s Nazi affiliation. 

While Zelensky did applaud Hunka alongside the rest of the Canadian House of Commons, any suggestion that he knew of Hunka’s Nazi affiliation—let alone supported him because of it—is unsubstantiated. Anthony Rota, the speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, later said he had not informed either the Canadian government or the Ukrainian delegation of the plan to honor Hunka, and resigned from his post. “This House is above any of us,” he told his fellow lawmakers. “I reiterate my profound regret.”

Peace Negotiations

Another point of emphasis for Putin during the interview surrounded the prospect of peace talks with Ukraine and Russia’s good will attempts to reach a deal. In one instance, he claimed that the two countries had agreed to terms before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Ukraine and tanked the deal. “We negotiated with Ukraine in Istanbul, we agreed,” Putin said. “But then [Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia] publicly stated to the whole world, ‘We were ready to sign this document but Mr. Johnson [then the prime minister] came and dissuaded us from doing this, saying it was better to fight Russia.’”

The claim is a misrepresentation of actual statements made by Arakhamia. In an interview about the Istanbul negotiations, Arakhamia said that Boris Johnson, visiting Kyiv in April 2022, had encouraged the Ukrainian government to continue fighting Russia and not sign any agreement. While Johnson admits to expressing concerns over a potential negotiation to Zelensky, he denied that he had pressured Ukraine to end negotiations in an interview with The Times, saying that allegations from Russia to the contrary were propaganda.

“They really hoped almost to the last that they would put the squeeze on us to sign such an agreement so that we would take neutrality,” Arakhamia said of the peace talks. “They were ready to end the war if we took, as Finland once did, neutrality and made commitments that we would not join NATO.” However, Arakhamia explained that Ukraine would have had to change its constitution to accept the proposed Russian terms—the document explicitly calls for Ukraine to become a NATO member—and added that Ukraine did not trust that the Russians would uphold their end of any deal.

Putin’s claim that Russia withdrew troops from Kyiv to facilitate negotiations is also inaccurate. “We withdrew the troops from Kyiv,” he said. “As soon as we pulled back our troops from Kyiv, our Ukrainian negotiators immediately threw all our agreements reached in Istanbul into the bin and got prepared for a long-standing armed confrontation with the help of the United States and its satellites in Europe.” 

But the Russian military’s withdrawal from Kyiv around that time wasn’t driven by the goodness of Putin’s heart—the Kremlin’s forces were defeated by Ukrainian troops in the field. “It does not stand up to even the very smallest amount of scrutiny,” Dickinson said. “Russia was beaten in the Battle of Kyiv, they withdrew with their tail between their legs, and then tried to dress it up by saying, ‘Well, actually, it’s part of our peace negotiation plans.’”

Putin also claimed that Zelensky “issued a decree prohibiting negotiations with us.” This is somewhat misleading. In October 2022, Zelensky issued a decree that specifically ruled out negotiations with Putin himself, but did not ban any negotiations with the country. “[Putin] does not know what dignity and honesty are,” Zelensky said. “Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia.”

The Nord Stream Pipeline

Alongside his bold claim that the CIA backed a coup in Ukraine, Putin also asserted that the U.S. and CIA were responsible for the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline in late 2022. “Who blew up Nord Stream?” Tucker asked. “You, for sure,” Putin responded. “You personally may have an alibi, but the CIA has no such alibi.” Investigations are still ongoing, but there is no evidence as of yet that the U.S. or CIA orchestrated the sabotage.

The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines run from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea and are used to transport natural gas directly from Russia to the European market. On September 26, 2022, seismic stations in Scandinavia registered explosions near the pipelines, with Denmark and Sweden later determining that the blast that caused the resulting leaks resulted from large amounts of explosives.

In June 2023, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA had warned the Ukrainian government not to attack the pipelines after it heard of plans to “destroy a main energy connection between Russia and Europe” weeks before the sabotage occurred. Some intelligence has suggested that a pro-Ukrainian group orchestrated the attacks, but U.S. officials have said that they do not believe an operation was carried out with the knowledge of Ukrainian government officials. Many theories exist blaming a number of potential perpetrators—including the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia itself—but none are conclusive. On February 7, 2024, Sweden announced that it was closing its own investigation into the sabotage due to the country lacking jurisdiction, however investigations remain ongoing in both Germany and Denmark. 

The Case of Evan Gershkovich

Carlson ended the interview by questioning Putin on the case of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in Russia for almost a year. “The guy’s obviously not a spy. 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,” Tucker told Putin. 

“You can give a different interpretation to what constitutes a spy, but there are certain things provided by law,” Putin responded. “If a person gets secret information and does that in a conspiratorial manner, then this is qualified as espionage. And that is exactly what he was doing. He was receiving classified, confidential information, and he did it covertly.”

Gershkovich was arrested in March 2023 while on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg—a large city in central Russia. The FSB alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.” Russian officials have said that Gershkovich was caught red-handed trying to access Russian state secrets—though no evidence has yet been presented publicly to back up this assertion, and both the Wall Street Journal and U.S. government deny any allegations of espionage. A Moscow court recently ruled to extend Gershkovich’s detention until March 30, the fourth time his detention has been extended.

Russia has previously used detentions for both the purpose of retaliation and of bargaining, though this is the first time a U.S. journalist has been arrested for espionage since the Cold War.

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Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.