Vladimir Putin mocked Tucker Carlson for trying – and failing – to join the CIA, during their more than two-hour-long, freewheeling interview released on Thursday.
The remark came during a discussion of the 2014 political protests in Ukraine, which led to the ouster of its then-President Viktor Yanukovich and subsequently Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing of so-called pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian president went on to claim that his 2022 invasion of Ukraine was an attempt to put an end to the conflict that he falsely argued Ukraine had began back in 2014.
Mr Putin said that the “entire Ukrainian economy” used to be based on trade with Russia.
“The cooperation ties between the enterprises were very close since the times of the Soviet Union. One enterprise there used to produce components to be assembled both in Russia and Ukraine and vice versa. There used to be very close ties,” he said.
“A coup d’etat was committed, although, I shall not delve into details now as I find doing it inappropriate, the US told us, ‘Calm Yanukovich down and we will calm the opposition. Let the situation unfold in the scenario of a political settlement’. We said, ‘Alright. Agreed. Let’s do it this way’. As the Americans requested us, Yanukovich did use neither the Armed Forces, nor the police, yet the armed opposition committed a coup in Kiev. What is that supposed to mean? ‘Who do you think you are?’, I wanted to ask the then-US leadership,” he said.
“With the backing of whom?” Mr Carlson asked.
“With the backing of CIA, of course.”
At that point, Mr Putin jabbed at the right-wing media figure for his own past efforts applying to work for the CIA.
“The organisation you wanted to join back in the day, as I understand,” he said.
“Maybe we should thank God they didn’t let you in. Although, it is a serious organisation. I understand. My former vis-à-vis, in the sense that I served in the First Main Directorate – Soviet Union’s intelligence service. They have always been our opponents. A job is a job.”
He added: “Technically they did everything right, they achieved their goal of changing the government. However, from political standpoint, it was a colossal mistake. Surely, it was political leadership’s miscalculation. They should have seen what it would evolve into.”
Both Mr Putin’s claim that Mr Yanukovich didn’t use force against the protesters – who were outraged after he backtracked on a deal for closer cooperation with the European Union in 2014, instead moving back towards Russia – and his claim that the CIA was behind a “coup” to replace Mr Yanukovich, were blasted as outright lies by critics.
Mr Putin also falsely claimed that “initially, it was the coup in Ukraine that provoked the conflict” between Russia and Ukraine.
In 2019, RadioFreeEurope wrote that “more than 100 people were killed and 2,500 injured in clashes with security forces, some of them shot dead by snipers,” during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2014.
A scholar of Russian war propaganda, Dr Ian Garner noted on X: “Putin blames other countries for not agreeing that the coup - which let’s remember wasn’t a coup - was a coup. It was the CIA’s fault.
“Putin blames the coup, but also claims he’s bothered about NATO’s eastward expansion (contradicting himself) ... and by Ukraine’s desire to join NATO (i.e. the standard ‘only Russia can call the shots in Ukraine’ line),” he added.
A former deputy minister at the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anton Gerashchenko, also wrote on X that Mr Carlson’s interview merely made him an “instrument of propaganda” for Mr Putin.
“This interview is propaganda from the leader of an aggressor country and a war criminal. It can’t be called anything other than propaganda.
“This interview made Carlson himself an instrument of propaganda. Tucker Carlson understands this well and realizes how much he miscalculated”.
The US Ambassador to Russia between 2012 and 2014, Michael McFaul, noted that the start of the interview was “revealing about why Putin invaded. He was not reacting to some imminent NATO expansion but seeking to correct (in his view) things that occurred centuries before the creation of NATO”.