Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a more than two-hour interview to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that was released online Thursday, covering a variety of topics, from Ukraine to the Russian economy, but breaking little new ground.
Putin told Carlson that Russia has not achieved its war aims in its widely condemned invasion of neighboring Ukraine, and he began the interview with a roughly 20-minute, mostly uninterrupted, speech about history that included the days of Catherine the Great, the empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796.
Carlson at one point flattered Putin and said it was not boring but added, “I just don’t know how it’s relevant.”
NBC News has not been provided any details about the circumstances under which the interview was recorded. Putin spoke in Russian, and the translation was provided by Carlson’s show.
Putin did not rule out that Russia could release jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, whom the U.S. says is being wrongfully detained, but suggested that the U.S. would have to make a deal.
There is an "ongoing dialogue between the special services," he said.
"We want the U.S. special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing. We are ready to talk. Moreover, the talks are underway," Putin said.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed Putin's claim that Gershkovich, 32, was involved in "espionage," but it said Thursday it was encouraged by any deal that could bring him home.
“Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction. Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release," the Journal said.
Carlson has consistently repeated falsehoods, misinformation and conspiracy theories, and he has been a vocal critic of U.S. support of Ukraine.
Referring to sanctions the U.S. and other countries placed on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin said, “The tools that the U.S. uses don’t work."
Putin also said he had a good personal relationship with former President George W. Bush. “I had such personal relationship with Trump, as well,” he said.
Asked whether there could be renewed communication between the U.S. and Russia in an administration after President Joe Biden, Putin said: “It is not about the leader. It is not about the personality of a particular person."
The interview was posted on Carlson’s website at about 6 p.m. Thursday, with Carlson’s account on X also posting it. X, the social media site owned by Elon Musk, has — along with Facebook and Instagram — been blocked in Russia since the early days of the war.
The Kremlin has been engineering another expected election victory for Putin in March — and the Russian military has been making gains on the battlefield while aid for the Ukrainians is held up in Congress by Republicans loyal to former President Donald Trump.
Carlson, who was fired from Fox News in April, has since fashioned himself as an independent journalist. He boasted ahead of the interview that he was the only Western journalist willing to interview Putin — a claim that was undermined by the Kremlin, which indicated that Carlson got the interview precisely because of his pro-Russia stance on the war in Ukraine.
Not only has Carlson questioned U.S. support for Kyiv, but he has also frequently been featured on Kremlin propaganda channels since he left Fox News.
Ukrainians were quick to criticize Carlson for speaking to Putin while Russia continued to bombard their country.
“I hope he will be asked why he kills civilians and hits residential buildings,” said Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "Criminals should be tried, not talked to."
Carlson has also accused the Western media of neglecting to interview Putin while often talking to Zelenskyy at length.
NBC News’ Keir Simmons interviewed Putin in Moscow in 2021, and former CNBC anchor and correspondent Hadley Gamble also spoke with him just months before the war. In December, NBC News interviewed Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
In addition, an untold number of Western journalists have made repeated requests for interviews with Putin, only to be rebuffed by the Kremlin.
Peskov himself contradicted Carlson’s claim that no Western media had “bothered” to interview Putin, saying Wednesday that the Kremlin receives “many requests” for interviews with him.
But Peskov also accused Western news outlets of being inherently biased against Putin, adding that “there is no desire to communicate with such media.” He said Carlson was granted the interview because his position “differs from the rest.”
Reporting from Russia during the war has proved dangerous for domestic and foreign journalists after Moscow enacted draconian legislation that criminally penalizes criticism of its armed forces. The laws have forced many Russian independent media and Western news organizations to move their operations out of Russia.
Two U.S. journalists are in Russian custody. Gershkovich is still awaiting trial after he was detained last spring, facing espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. government strenuously deny.
Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian American reporter with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was detained in October and has been charged with failure to register as a foreign agent. RFE/RL is a nonprofit news organization funded through the United States Agency for Global Media.
“Tucker Carlson should concentrate on his journalism, and stop attacking other journalists — doing so makes himself look like the worst kind of fact-adverse shock jock,” Tim Dawson, the deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said in a statement to NBC News. “Any honest attempt to understand President Putin is welcome. It is sad that Tucker Carlson is promoting his interview with unevidenced invective and untruth."
Putin rarely interacts with the public, and he has relied on prepared speeches and official events to rail against the West. In December, he held his first big news conference since the war started, a carefully curated event at which only one Western media outlet was given the opportunity to ask a question.
Carlson has openly questioned U.S. support for Kyiv, accused Washington of provoking Russia to invade and criticized the Ukrainian government. He is popular in Russia and is regularly quoted by Russian propagandist media as an authoritative pro-Moscow voice in the U.S.
In the days leading up to the interview, Russian state media closely followed Carlson’s every move, reporting feverishly on his trips to the Bolshoi Theater and the Russian version of McDonald’s.
For Putin, Carlson's visit was a welcome distraction from a bleak winter in which Russia has grappled with a widespread utility crisis, growing protests by soldiers’ wives and a potential challenge from Boris Nadezhdin, a surprisingly popular anti-war politician.
“Carlson’s help is invaluable for Putin,” Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, said on his Telegram channel. “It is not possible to find momentum inside the country, so Carlson is the main hope here.”
Fox News parted ways with Carlson in April after it agreed to pay nearly $800 million to Dominion Voting Systems to avert a high-stakes defamation trial that had cast a shadow over the network’s future.
In the lead-up to the Dominion trial, Carlson’s internal communications were released, showing him criticizing Trump and acknowledging that claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election were baseless.
Since then, he has launched a show on X and a subscription-based streaming service.
Shortly after he left Fox News, Carlson also received offers of employment from Russia’s propagandist RT network and Vladimir Solovyov, a pro-Kremlin propagandist and commentator on Russia state TV.
But Carlson has chosen to build his own brand. In recent months he has interviewed Hungary’s autocratic leader, Viktor Orbán, and Argentina’s right-wing president, Javier Milei.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier Thursday that no one in the U.S. should be misled by Putin’s attempts to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
“He invaded a neighboring country without provocation — Ukraine wasn’t a threat to anybody, and the American people understand that. And the American people understand what Ukraine is fighting for,” Kirby said.
“Remember, you’re listening to Vladimir Putin,” Kirby said at a briefing. “And you shouldn’t take at face value anything he has to say.”