Putin, via Tucker Carlson, Reaches Out to Republicans To Block American Aid to Ukraine

‘Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia?’ the Kremlin leader cajoles the conservative talk show host.

Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
President Putin during an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin. Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

With $60 billion in American aid to Ukraine hanging in the balance, President Putin waded into a congressional debate last night, wooing Republican swing votes with an offer to negotiate peace in Ukraine.

“Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia?” the Kremlin  leader cajoled conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson in an interview posted on his new Tucker Carlson Network site.  “Make an agreement…realizing that Russia will fight for its interests to the end.”

Mr. Putin’s pitch to the Trump-friendly journalist came as Republican support ebbs for sending American military aid to Ukraine. Yesterday a procedural vote on the aid barely passed in the Senate. In the 100-member body, 31 Republicans voted against aid to Ukraine, a big jump from the 11 who voted against aid in May 2022.

While Mr. Putin pushed for talks, two European leaders sought to stiffen Republican spines. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “A Russian victory in Ukraine would not only be the end of Ukraine as a free, democratic and independent state, it would also dramatically change the face of Europe. It would deal a severe blow to the liberal world order.”

Without citing Mr. Trump by name, Mr. Scholz said that Germany now meets a policy goal of Mr. Trump: “Germany has massively ramped up its defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product.” Mr. Scholz, who took office two years ago, added: “The sooner Mr. Putin understands that we are in this for the long haul, the sooner the war in Ukraine will end.”

Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, evoked a revered Republican leader when he tweeted yesterday: “Dear Republican Senators of America. Ronald Reagan, who helped millions of us to win back our freedom and independence, must be turning in his grave today. Shame on you.”

However, it was Mr. Putin who walked the extra mile to court Republicans. In his first meeting  with an American journalist since invading Ukraine two years ago, he gave a courteous, sit down interview that went on for so long that the former Fox News host cut it off after two hours.

The Russian leader brushed off nuclear threats made over the last two years by other Kremlin officials and state TV talk show hosts. He promised not to invade any more countries. Speaking in a calm and measured Russian: “We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. Why would we do that? We simply don’t have any interest.”

After giving his visibly impatient interviewer a 36-minute lecture on his version of 1,200 years of Russian history, Mr. Putin suggested swapping land for peace. “You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to a negotiating table,” he advised. Mr. Putin, who has sought for 20 years to bring Ukraine back under Russia’s wing, asked the American: “Don’t you have anything better to do? You have issues on [your] border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt.”

Asked whether NATO would accept Russian control over 20 percent of Ukraine, Mr. Putin responded: “Let them think how to do it with dignity. There are options if there is a will.”

The Russian leader has made some headway with American public opinion. Mr. Putin is viewed favorably by 26 percent of Americans, up from 15 percent in 2021, according to London-based polling firm YouGov. Among millennials, this figure jumps to 43 percent. Mr. Zelensky polls as Americans’ most popular foreign leader, with an approval rate of 50 percent.

Mr. Carlson’s interview was recorded Tuesday evening, before President Zelensky replaced his top military commander, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Russia’s president sought to convey to his audience of millions of Americans his view that chaos in Ukraine will lead to peace talks: “This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems — sooner or later, it will result in an agreement.”

This week, Russia’s state TV gave celebrity status to Mr. Carlson, tailing his car, breathlessly chronicling his visit to the Bolshoi to watch the ballet Spartacus, and his lunch at a nationalized McDonald’s where he wolfed down a double cheeseburger. TV hosts hailed Mr. Carlson’s trip to Moscow as a rare chance to break through an American fog of misunderstanding about Russia.

With Russia’s presidential elections set for March 15 to March 17, the Kremlin seemed to time this interview by a prominent American to portray Mr. Putin as a leader emerging from international isolation. Before the vote, Mr. Putin plans trips to Turkey, a regular destination, and, possibly, North Korea, his first since 2000. Once a Soviet satellite, North Korea has become the largest supplier of rockets and artillery shells to Russia for its war against Ukraine.

In the face-to-face encounter, Mr. Carlson neglected to ask Mr. Putin about his International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged war crimes that Russia forcibly took Ukrainian children to Russia. No mention was made of Russia’s massacres of civilians in Bucha or the carpet bombings of Mariupol, Bakhmut, and other Ukrainian cities. Nor did the closeting of gays and the jailings and murders of Mr. Putin’s political rivals come up either.

At the end of the interview, Mr. Carlson offered to fly Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich home. He is in a jail cell four miles from the Kremlin awaiting trial on spying charges. Mr. Putin, who started his career as a KGB agent, said the “services” of both countries are working on a deal.

The Russ leader implied that the 32-year-old reporter could be swapped for Vadim Krasikov, an FSB assassin currently serving a life sentence in a German prison for shooting dead a Georgian military officer, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019. Mr. Putin concluded: “I believe an agreement can be reached.”

After the interview was streamed, the Wall Street Journal posted this statement: “We’re encouraged to see Russia’s desire for a deal that brings Evan home, and we hope this will lead to his rapid release and return to his family and our newsroom.”

The New York Sun

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