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Putin’s dangerous myths and the credulous Tucker Carlson

2024 February 16
by Paul Vallely

I wonder what Vladimir Putin made of Donald Trump’s latest campaign-trail outburst. During a political rally on Saturday in South Carolina, former President Trump said that he would not want to protect NATO members from a future attack by Russia if those countries were spending less than two per cent of their GDP on defence. Indeed Mr Trump said he would “encourage” the Russians “to do whatever the hell they want” with such “delinquent” NATO nations.

The Russian president’s warmongering has recently come under scrutiny by the forensic television documentary-maker Norma Percy whose Putin versus The West examined the two years of fighting in Ukraine. Her two programmes made for disturbing viewing. First they unpacked the tardy initial response of the West to the conflict – with Europe and the US uncertain how far they could back Ukraine without provoking a wider conflict with Russia. Next they chronicled the fragmenting of Western support for the beleaguered nation.

But it was President Putin’s interview with the far-right American television pundit Tucker Carlson which exposed just how grave that fragmentation has become. The interview was an exercise in sycophancy in which Mr Carlson, a leading acolyte of Donald Trump, allowed the Russian leader free rein to peddle a mythological version of Russian history – in a bogus justification of why he was right to send an invading army into Ukraine.

We have heard much of Mr Putin’s nonsense before. He began by lecturing the credulous Mr Carlson on Russian history going back to the 9th century Kyivan Rus, a name coined by historians only in the 19th century, and from which Ukraine could as legitimately claim descent as can Russia – and which also muddles the ideas of state  and nation. Later in the rambling two-hour interview, finally reaching the 20th century, he bizarrely suggested that Poland had forced Hitler to invade it in 1939 – don’t ask – just as Nato had provoked Russia now to invade Ukraine to “deNazify” the Westward-leaning nation.

With Mr Carlson playing the role of what Lenin is supposed to have called a “useful idiot” all this might have come across as merely risible were these times not so dangerous. Ukraine’s counter-offensive against the Russian invaders has stalled. President Zelensky has just sacked his commander-in-chief and called for reset and renewal in the war effort. Meanwhile Ukraine’s allies cannot agree on what military materiel to provide, and when.

Most precariously President Biden’s proposal for a $95 billion defence package, which includes aid for Ukraine, faces an uncertain future. It has been denounced by Donald Trump and now faces Republican opposition in both chambers of Congress. There are plenty in Washington eager to accept Mr Putin’s assurance to Tucker Carlson that all the United States has to do is stop providing weapons to Kyiv and “everything will be finished in a few weeks”.

Indeed it could be. In Moscow a poster urging men to enlist to fight in Ukraine depicts a masked gun-wielding soldier. Behind him is portrayed the frail figure of Jesus. Beneath is a slogan that reads: “Christ triumphed over hell, and Russia will too”.  Perhaps this is the ‘hell’ to which Donald Trump – as detached as he is from theological as geo-political reality –  has referred.

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