Hassan Hami
15 February 2024

Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson Interview: A Remote Influencer in US Presidential Election Picks Up the Stakes

Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson Interview: A Remote Influencer in US Presidential Election Picks Up the Stakes
Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson Interview: A Remote Influencer in US Presidential Election Picks Up the Stakes

The importance of this interview lies in the fact that it presents a geopolitical reading that suggests that Russia will not lose much in the process.

President Vladimir Putin’s interview with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson on February 9, 2024, has been widely circulated on social media. The reading and commentary on it have varied in substance and relevance. Some have called it bluffing and manipulation. Others saw it as a move by an uninspired head of state who engaged in a pitiful propaganda exercise. A third category appreciated Putin’s reading of an international system experiencing a deep transformation.

In the following lines, I intend to share what I think of the interview, which differs, from my point of view, from all those that Putin has given since 2007, the date of his famous speech at the Munich Security Conference. However, the interview confirms the description given of him in many books that have been devoted to him since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. A cold, unwavering interlocutor who is not afraid to dig deep to make his case.

The importance of this interview lies in the fact that it presents a geopolitical reading that suggests that Russia will not lose much in the process. Putin dominated his interlocutor from start to finish. Carlson, an ultraconservative, came up with an agenda to blame Putin for the Russia-Ukraine war. Carlson left the stage more perplexed than he was when he arrived in Moscow. Putin managed to steer the interview to his advantage.

At least three levels can be identified in the interview. The first is the bitterness, disappointment, and anger that the Kremlin leader is brewing. Putin has chosen history to defend the Russian thesis. It recalls the most important events in the tumultuous history of Russia (and the Soviet Union).

This history is characterized by periods of expansion and contraction without touching the heart of the Russian nation. It was quite amusing to watch Carlson listen to his interlocutor like a schoolboy, not daring to spare a word to regain the upper hand.

From a historical perspective, it seems that Russia has been duped since the end of the First World War and the Second World War. Of course, Russia (the USSR) had a share of responsibility for the agreed division of labor between East and West in order to dominate international politics, but this did not prevent the country from losing a lot on the occasion of certain vicissitudes of the Cold War.

More than the feeling of betrayal, a deep cut of humiliation

The second level is that of the new geopolitics that has been built up since the early 2000s, as Russia perceives it. Indeed, the first years of the new millennium began with a global shock following the terrorist attacks of September 2001 that struck the United States. The latter felt their vulnerability in the same way as the rest of the so-called democratic countries.

The perception of terrorism has since changed. In this regard, President Putin is indirectly taking a jab at Western public opinion. He recalled what had happened in the North Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya, Dagestan, Tatarstan, and Ingushetia. To him, this was no different from the terrorist actions that had shaken the United States.

Moreover, in the same chapter, Putin recalls that his country has been the target of aggression throughout its history. Russia has always been at war, and there is no evidence that it was the first to start one. In the same spirit, Putin recalls that the decision to invade and annex Crimea was dictated by the perception of an even more dramatic aggression aimed at destroying his country under the pretext of promoting democracy in the former Eastern countries.

The third level is the loss of confidence in Russia’s American and European interlocutors. Relying on his historical arguments, the Russian president lists his grievances. A series of about-faces that the Americans and Europeans would have committed.

Firstly, the failure to respect the commitments made on the eve and in the aftermath of the disintegration of the USSR. One of the most strategic commitments was not to enlarge NATO to include former Eastern European countries. According to Russian political and strategic planners, after the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, there was no longer any reason to keep NATO in its old structure since the Soviet danger had disappeared. However, Russia had no particular reason to oppose these countries joining the European Union.

Secondly, German reunification was accepted by Russia (perhaps reluctantly) in return for not rushing the so-called democratic transitions in the countries of the East, let alone precipitating the chaos that demolished Yugoslavia. President Putin made this clear when he addressed the ethnic dimension of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia could do nothing to help the Serbs, who are, like the Russians, a branch of the Slavic peoples.

Third, instead of sticking to their commitments to Russia, the United States and its European allies have resorted to energy weapons by seducing countries that are part of Russia’s vital space. They accompanied their actions with the proposal, via the European Union, of the Eastern Partnership, which was nothing other than an attempt to create a fissure in the already complex relations between Moscow and its “former republics,” particularly those of the South Caucasus, which did not really negotiate their independence, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Here, too, as would later happen with Crimea, Russia had no choice but to push for the unilateral independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories that are an integral part of Georgia.

Fourth, the United States and the Europeans allegedly failed to live up to their commitments to exchange strategic information of vital importance to the Russians on the eve of and during the execution of the airstrikes that precipitated the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2012.

Suffice it to say from these explanations that the Russian president is consumed by the feeling that his country has not only been betrayed but, above all, humiliated.

Russia is not the turkey in the farce that everyone thinks

The same sentiment is expressed with regard to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Neither the principle of Ukraine’s neutrality announced in 2008 nor the 2014 agreement have been respected by the various actors in the crisis. This is not to mention the 2022 Istanbul Protocol. According to the head of the Kremlin, the Ukrainian leaders are not masters of their decisions. A deal was reportedly reached in Istanbul, but Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, acting as a messenger, reportedly dissuaded Ukraine’s leaders from moving forward with the start of the peace process.

How can we appreciate the epilogue or keep a distance from the various Russian, American, and European narratives?

First, an observation: the peculiarity of the mental structure of Russian decision-makers is time management. They draw their strength from their interpretation of their own history. It was curious how President Putin referred to Genghis Khan and Joseph Stalin. The two characters left their mark on their era in a bloodthirsty way, but justified by the conviction of brewing a lot to survive. This did not prevent Putin from questioning Stalin’s policy, particularly the sequence of the cession and recovery of Crimea.

The same management of time was noticed in the negotiation process on the eve and in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In this regard, President Putin dismisses with a wave of his hand the preposterous idea that Boris Yeltsin was an incompetent or a buffoon. He expressed all the respect he had for him for having allowed Russia not to lose everything in one fell swoop at a time when everything suggested that the empire would not survive its programmed agony. A justified recognition of the fact that it was thanks to Yeltsin that Putin came to power.

Secondly, the general outline of the perception of global security and the new geopolitics in the world. This perception has been the same since the Munich speech of 2007. In that speech, Putin pleaded for a multipolar world and the need to respect each country’s sovereign choices about how to structure its political institutions. This rhetoric, which stigmatizes what Putin calls “American expansionism,” is important in that it has warned the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany that Russia is back. A call that would not have been appreciated at its true value in its time.

Immediate consequences: the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the outbreak of the energy crisis with Ukraine in 2008, the creation of obstacles to the comfortable implementation of the Eastern Partnership, initiated in 2009, for the benefit of the former Soviet republics of the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia), Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine, blocking the construction of gas pipelines between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and some European countries passing through Georgia and Turkey.

Russia has won its case by preventing the construction of a gas pipeline as important as the one labeled Nabucco. Beyond the staggering cost of the Nabucco project, Russia has managed to divide European EU member countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy, over whether to run the pipeline through their respective territories.

Thirdly, the failure of the Western strategy to make Russia abdicate by creating the conditions for the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine. A decade and a half later, we’re back to square one. Russia has not fallen. Ukraine does not feel any more secure. It is losing part of its territory. Russia has found palliatives to sell its gas. It had already anticipated this by signing a $400 billion supply agreement with China in 2014 for a period of thirty years.

Fourth, the importance of history in understanding geography. On this front, President Putin has made a masterful demonstration, implicitly mocking those who lecture morality about just wars and unjust wars.

Without going overboard, Putin calls into question the principle of the inviolability of borders. The entire history of Europe has been marked by processes of conquest and the recovery of territories. Political maps have been drawn without taking into account cultural and ethnic realities. He took this opportunity to recall that Hungarian, Polish, Bulgarian, and other territories had been annexed to Ukraine and that it would be up to these countries to claim them if they saw fit.

By insisting on the historical dimension of geopolitics, President Putin is singling out those political scientists à la carte who skim over the history of the Russian Empire and who set themselves up as sorcerers’ apprentices of a culture that some Russian dissidents have transformed, unwittingly, into a business to the delight of their supporters in the West.

Similarly, American specialists in Russian affairs, including seasoned diplomats such as Condoleezza Rice or William Burns, have, according to Putin, only partially understood the psychology and mental structure of Russians. They have participated in all major negotiations on strategic relations between Russia and the United States. They are good negotiators and highly respected, but it would seem, he observes, that they have not had any real impact on the outstanding cases.

What for? President Putin is not offended by pinpointing decision-making centers stronger than American politicians and strategists, who constitute or are members of what is called the deep state.

Fifth, the international system is well and truly on a new trajectory, that of multiple major actors. Of course, the U.S. is always one step ahead of other competitors, but the distance is starting to shrink. On this front, Putin couldn’t have been more comfortable plucking Tucker Carlson when he talked about the balance of power within the BRICS.

Carlson raised the question of China’s ascendancy over other BRICS members. Instead of falling into the trap, Putin says that China will soon overtake the United States and that it is already a world power moving in the direction of the multipolar international system that Russia is calling for. Similarly, China and Russia are members of the Shangani Cooperation Organization, which was established in 1996. It is not proven, either, that China exercises any sort of hegemony there.

Sixth, Russia seems to be the master of the strategic retreat principle when the means to stand up to its adversaries are momentarily weak. Thus, Russian decision-makers applied the same strategy that Lenin adopted in the aftermath of the Bolsheviks’ victory as a prelude to the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921.

Russian policymakers turned a blind eye to Azerbaijan’s military operations that resulted in the recovery since 2022 of almost all of the Nagorno-Karabakh province that Armenian separatists had occupied since 1993. Moscow has noticed that the Armenian lobby, especially in the United States, France, and even Russia, is beginning to flirt with Washington and Paris. Similarly, Armenia has become an unbearable economic and security burden. Russia, recalling the logic of history and administrative organization under the Soviet Empire, has made the choice to deal with its western borders.

Seventh, Russia is not giving up its right to fight. As happened during the October 1962 crisis, when the USSR deployed missiles in Cuba in response to the installation of American missiles in Italy and Turkey, Russia is shattering the implicit division of labor between West and East, highly schematized by the “discontinuity paradigm.”

In this respect, by combining the principle of time management with that of dealing with the most urgent matters, Russia managed to control the ground inadvertently abandoned or geopolitically misunderstood by intermediate European powers in Africa, notably France and Belgium.

No mea culpa, a break-in in the US presidential election

Russia entered sub-Saharan Africa to stay. It is doing so as it did when it went to Syria when the Syrian Baathist regime was about to fall. This would have undermined Russia’s security interests in the Middle East. It blocked the way to the supply of Qatari gas to Europe; this would have weakened its bargaining power in the South Caucasus in the context of energy geopolitics.

Eleventh, President Putin is playing a stroke of genius by playing into the hands of his interlocutor, Tucker Carlson, in order to ultimately manipulate him. He cleverly uses the hat of the latter, described as an intractable conservative but who has nevertheless taken the liberty of criticizing the strategic choices of the United States in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

 However, Putin goes further; he is playing out almost the same scenario that was executed in the US presidential elections in 1916. At the time, after the election that brought an outsider, Donald Trump, to power, Russia was accused of interfering in the election by dubious means, laying bare American vulnerability.

Today, thanks to Tucker Carlson and the conservative currents that share his political and ideological beliefs—and unbeknownst to them—Putin presents himself as a remote influencer. He did not agree to give this interview to defend his strategic choices in Ukraine and in the former Soviet Union in general. He presents himself as the victor and quietly sets out his conditions for ending Russia’s war against Ukraine. His aim is also to bring the European countries, which, according to him, have been fooled by the Americans, to better dispositions.

He comes up with interesting arguments. One: Russia may be weakened, but it hasn’t lost the war. Two: The Ukrainian territories conquered and annexed by Russia would never return to Ukrainian sovereignty—and in any case, never under the institutional form agreed upon before and after the protocol signed in Minsk in 2014. Three: in the absence of a solution acceptable to all parties involved, these territories will suffer the fate of Crimea, i.e., a definitive annexation come what may. Four: Economic sanctions have not worked. On the contrary, they would have facilitated the emergence of an anti-Western front, particularly among emerging countries. The BRICS are the most eloquent example of this, although this gathering has a long way to go before it has a real say in the matter. Five: Relatively healthy relations between Russia and European countries cannot be achieved without full respect for Russia’s vital space. Six: Instead of focusing on Russia, the U.S. should look at China, which will eventually relegate it to the background in the hierarchy of global power by the end of this century.

Democracy and geopolitics: a false note in the air

Does this mean that President Putin has gained points over his opponents on the geopolitical front? And does Russia have the means to resist the war of attrition that is being waged against it? Doesn’t Russia have anything to reproach itself with in all this?

What options are in Russia’s hands? One: Now that Russia seems to have persuaded the West to keep quiet for the time being and not venture into its vital space, especially in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Russia can make an effort to resolve the latent conflicts taking place elsewhere.

Two: Moscow certainly started with Nagorno-Karabakh to the great displeasure of Armenia and fierce European countries such as France or the United States, members of the Minsk Group, which remain under the influence of the Armenian lobby in both countries. But it should go even further: review its alliance relations on the basis of the communist-socialist ideology that no longer has any impact on the geopolitical decisions of many developing countries, in which Russia has sympathizers.

Three: The U.S. and its European allies have not said their last word. They still have a lot of arrows in their quivers. They need to keep the tension running high for internal political considerations and geopolitical choices that are inevitable in this confusing period of transition in the international system.

Four: The Europeans have failed to damage the alliance between Russia and China. In addition, former US President Donald Trump’s statement that, if elected in November 2024, he would resume his policy towards NATO. The Europeans should pay the United States in return for their security. Otherwise, they would be left at the mercy of Russia. This statement fell like a tile on the heads of many European decision-makers. Especially since, in the same logic, Donald Trump says that if elected, he would immediately end the United States’ excessive support for Ukraine and work towards a negotiated solution with Russia.

Five: Russia should renounce its imperial temptation under the pretext of reconquering parcels of territory that it deems to belong to it by virtue of history, culture, and duration of sovereignty.

Six: The ethnic dimension is certainly important in the perception of the complex history of Central and Eastern Europe in general, but it would be dangerous to open a breach in the political-geographical built-up process of the states concerned. The wounds caused by the First and Second World Wars and the collateral damage rooted in the Cold War and the vicissitudes of the 1990s are more painful and, if stirred, could lead to a deadly generalized war.

Seven: Towards the end of the interview, Carlson asked a similar question pertaining to a global world war, to which President Putin responded with a call for the immediate start of negotiations with Ukraine and other relevant parties. He sums up this process with a laconic formula: “When there is sincere political will, there are many options on the table.” Some would say Putin means negotiations in the terms that he has already indirectly presented in this interview. The key word would have been neither blind resignation nor mortal humiliation.

Eight: Otherwise, Russia, which has failed to achieve the objectives that dictated the intervention in Ukraine in the first place, will continue the war. Is it a bluff, a gratuitous threat, or a headlong rush? In politics, when the existential dimension is invited into the debate, it mixes up widely and can transform the bluff into unbeatable primary truths that jeopardize even the strongest structure.

Source : https://www.moroccoworldnews.com

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