They say that he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon. But, driven by vanity and unconstrained by any understanding of Russia’s history or politics, Tucker Carlson slurped up the intoxicating broth of Vladimir Putin’s falsifications this week in his interview with the Russian president.
Carlson took to Moscow well. His Russian hosts rolled out the red carpet, fawning over him with an admiration and servility that betrayed their sense of exasperation at being long shunned by the West. They saw him as a glittering American Prometheus who might just be gullible enough to take the fire of Russian disinformation back home.
Putin was different from his lieutenants. He didn’t try to humour Carlson and, on occasion, even seemed to be mocking him. He began the two-hour interview with a long foray into Russian history. Like a teacher instructing a pupil, he lectured Carlson about the founding of the Ryurik dynasty (862 AD), the baptism of Rus (988 AD), the exploits of Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054 AD), and the Mongol conquests (1237-1241 AD). At one point, Putin signaled an assistant who brought in a grey folder which, he said, contained letters from the Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky to Warsaw and Moscow, including his letter to the Tsar, asking for the latter’s military protection of Ukraine.
It was not the first time Putin has played this trick on his interlocutors. He delights in posing as Russia’s historian-in-chief, and frequently appeals to widely known though carefully pre-selected documents, which he draws upon to defend his deeply flawed grand historical narratives. A better trained interlocutor would have challenged Putin’s reading of history, and, in particular, how anyone’s 17th century letters could serve as a useful starting point for annexing a neighboring country in the 21st century.