Vladimir Putin turned to a trusted ally for his first interview with a Western media figure, since he launched without provocation the brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Putin has heavily limited his contact with international media since February 2022. Russian authorities have cracked down on media, forcing some independent Russian outlets to close, blocking others, and ordering a number of foreign reporters to leave the country.

Two journalists working for U.S. news organizations — The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Alsu Kurmasheva — are in jail on questionable charges.

Before his ouster from Fox, Carlson repeatedly questioned the validity of U.S. support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion, and he has wondered why Americans are told to hate Putin so much. His commentaries were frequently circulated on Russian state-run media.

In a video promoting the interview, Carlson denounced “corrupt” American media outlets for “fawning pep sessions” with Zelenskyy that he said were designed to get America into a war with Eastern Europe.

Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, rejected Carlson’s suggestion that no Western journalists had submitted requests to interview Putin. He said the Kremlin has received many requests from large Western television channels and newspapers. But, he asserted, those news outlets “take a one-sided position.” Carlson’s position, Peskov said, “is in no way pro-Russian, nor pro-Ukrainian, but rather pro-American.”

The Associated Press is among the outlets that have requested an interview with Putin.

“Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full scale invasion of Ukraine?” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said on X. “It’s absurd — we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now.”

Most of the Carlson interview, released on February 8, focused on Ukraine. Putin repeated his false claim that his invasion of Ukraine, which Kyiv and its allies described as an unprovoked act of aggression, was necessary to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine and prevent the country from posing a threat to Russia by joining NATO.

Putin omitted discussion about the fact that he targeted those very same Ukrainians who spoke Russian with relentless missile strikes on residential areas. Areas across Donetsk and Luhansk were flattened in repeated terrorist attacks, until Russian troops could occupy the wasteland.

Putin tried to put the blame a the feet of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for refusing to conduct talks with the Kremlin – even though President Zelenskyy has sought to negotiate with Putin since February 2022.

“We have never refused negotiations,” Putin claimed. “You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to a negotiating table.”

Putin warned that the West would never succeed in inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia in Ukraine, and rejected allegations that Russia was harboring plans to attack Poland or other NATO countries. His rhetoric followed two years of threatening Europe with nuclear war, and weaponizing oil and food to freeze or starve millions.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby summarized the impact of Carlson’s interview, “Remember, you’re listening to Vladimir Putin. And you shouldn’t take at face value anything he has to say.”

In Russia, the interview received wall-to-wall coverage in state media on February 9, with major TV channels repeatedly airing excerpts and one state news agency describing it in a column as “a dagger blow through the curtain of propaganda of the dishonest media of the civilized world.”

In the days leading up to the release of the interview, Russian Kremlin-backed media also extensively covered Carlson’s visit to Russia, trying to follow him around Moscow and reporting in great detail on where the former Fox News host went.

The interview with Putin was distributed for free on his website and on X, formerly known as Twitter. Carlson, who was fired by Fox News in April, announced he was starting his own streaming service in December.

Fox has offered no explanation for firing Carlson, who was its top-rated personality at the time. Like many people who leave the network that is conservative America’s most popular news outlet, he has struggled to remain in the public eye.

Carlson worked at Fox News for more than a decade and hosted a show where he discussed conspiracy theories about Russia and the January 6 insurrection.

Carlson’s trip to Russia came as he has planted himself on criminally indicted ex-president Trump’s side of a growing split in the Republican party over Putin and the Ukraine war. Trump has pushed to cut off aid to Ukraine to please his Russian benefactor, and the GOP majority controlling the House of Representatives has complied.

While many Republicans are critical of the Russian dictator and his invasion, Trump and others have argued the United States has no interest in helping Ukraine defend itself against a brutal invader.

Carlson has also traveled to interview Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has fashioned himself into an icon for conservative populists across the globe. He has also been Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, obstructing many efforts to assist Ukraine and strengthen NATO against Russian aggression.

David Bauder, Emma Burrows, AP Staff, and MI Staff

Associated Press

Gavriil Grigorov (via AP)