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Ian Bremmer on Putin and Tucker

Ian Bremmer on Putin and Tucker
Ian Bremmer on Putin and Tucker | Quick Take

What happened when Tucker Carlson met Vladimir Putin? Was it news, propaganda, theatre, or all three? Ian Bremmer breaks down what you need to know now in his latest Quick Take.

Ian weighs in on Tucker Carlson's highly-anticipated interview with Putin and why it revealed what he and all other megalomaniacs have in common. The two-hour sit-down dropped to much fanfare from all sides of the political spectrum. Will there be any fallout from Putin’s first interview with an American since the start of the “special military operation” in Ukraine?


Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And a Quick Take, but towards the end of your week. Why? Because a lot of us watched this interview between Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson. And isn't there a lot to talk about? And the answer is a little less than all of the hype but still worth discussing.

First, I mean, you know, I will admit to having posted a fair bit about the importance of this interview. Of course, in part, it's because I have a history talking about, studying, covering Russia. But also, because this is now entering almost the third year of war when the Russians have invaded Ukraine, it is increasingly not going very well for the Ukrainians and therefore not very well for the United States and its allies. And that means that the timing of this interview is important, especially in the context of a very heated, very divisive US election, when increasingly support for Ukraine is becoming a matter of political difference. And it wasn't six months ago, but it certainly is becoming so very rapidly now.

Secondly, I have absolutely no problem with the idea of interviewing dictators. I think it's important for people to understand what makes everyone tick - friends, adversaries, everyone around the world. The problem is, of course, that dictators usually don't respect free press. And in Russia in particular, the media is, an independent media shut down, and they're imprisoned. They're sometimes assassinated. And certainly, Putin is not someone that has a history of valuing people that ask him independent minded, tough questions.

And of course, that is not why Tucker Carlson was invited to interview Putin. He was invited because he is someone that historically has said that if he's on a side, he's not on the side of Ukraine, he's on the side of Russia, and he's given very favorable interviews with people that are ideologically aligned with Putin, like Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the one European leader of a country that has consistently taken Putin's side more closely than he has the Americans and the Europeans. But having said all of that, even if the interview is not likely to be particularly fair or elucidating, it is important. And it's important because it's 2 hours with one of the most powerful people on the planet so in that regard, we do need to know what's being said.

So, let's talk a little bit about the interview itself. First point, no news was made. Substantively, we learned really nothing new. Putin going on a very long history lesson with tangents, going back to Genghis Khan and the Roman Empire. And maybe we should talk about the fact that the Roman Empire is on Putin's mind, too, just like so many people on Twitter. But that if anything was going to lose a large percentage of your audience, that was almost guaranteed to do so. I remember so many trips to Beijing and you'd meet with Chinese leaders, and the first 20 minutes were about Chinese leadership and rightful place in the world back in the 15th century. That's something you do when you're insecure. As the Chinese were doing better and as they were becoming a larger economy and feeling more comfortable in the rest of the world, and that more countries had to listen to them, they did less of that.

Putin, of course, doing worse. His economy now is smaller than Canada's, despite having the largest geographic landmass of any country in the world. All these important resources, more nuclear weapons even than the United States. But he's clearly not feeling very confident about that. Hence the need to give a huge history lesson to everyone that is willing to listen. And of course, you know, not much Tucker could do there. It's not like he's going to suddenly start interrupting the Russian leader. Really unclear how much of this would appeal to your typical Tucker Carlson audience. I mean, Putin's talk of a multipolar world is something I find fairly interesting. I do think that the global economic order is increasingly multipolar. The security order is not. It's still dominated by the United States. But that doesn't mean the US wants to be the world's policeman. And especially given the divisions inside the United States, it's very difficult for it to do so. And it's failed on many occasions. But I don't think that that's something that's really going to engage a lot of people that are talking about or listening to this interview.

It was interesting that Putin said that he hasn't talked to Biden since before the war. He said, “I can't remember the last time I talked to him.” I think the last time that they certainly last time they met in person was about six months before the war. I think it was in Geneva, it was 3 hours when Biden met with Putin and I mean, Biden, you know, he talks a lot about how he's spent a lot of time with Xi Jinping when they were both vice presidents, when they're both presidents, something he's proud of, this great man theory of politics that when you know someone and you engage with them, you can usually figure things out. He doesn't actually know Putin well. He's never really liked him. He doesn't respect him. It's obviously mutual. And clearly Putin finds the fact that Biden has not reached out to him personally as opposed to, say, Emmanuel Macron or other, let's say a Recep Erdogan from Turkey. That's something that the peaks that irritates him. He sees himself as leader of a great power.

And of course, the Americans at the highest level should be engaging. You know, I can see how a lot of what Putin had to say is interesting because it is the Russian perspective as engaged by a leader that we don't hear a lot from. But the biggest problem and it is a real problem in Putin's worldview is not on this stuff. That's all wrong. I mean, it is true. There are things he said that absolutely I am sympathetic to. NATO expansion is a challenge for Russia. How could it not be? But it's that he, like many great power types, like Kissinger, for example, consistently forgets about, intentionally forgets, about not even part of his worldview, one critical thing, and that is the agency of the countries involved: the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Czechs, the Latvians, none of them, none of these little countries have any agency at all in Putin's story.

These are countries that all wanted to join NATO. Why? Why did they want to join NATO? It's because they were worried about a Russia that behaves exactly as it has for the past 15 years in Georgia and in Ukraine and in so many other countries around the world. It's the idea that a great power gets to do whatever it wants and that human rights and war crimes, and those are for the little people. And, you know, the Americans have a hard time with a lot of this because the US is also not a signatory of the International Court of Justice. The Americans, you know, frequently ignore human rights when it's not of interest to them. And there's a lot of charges of hypocrisy in the way the Americans support the Ukrainians, but don't care so much about the Palestinians. And those are fair points. But you cannot compare the United States to what Russia has been doing precisely because even given the power, the unchecked power of the United States and the hypocrisy and the human rights violations and all the challenges, the Russians have been consistent in their complete abrogation of any interest of human rights, of basic legal rights of their people, of all of their neighbors, and of the ability of other countries to make up their own mind.

And ultimately, the reason why Ukraine wanted to join NATO is not because the Americans entice them, but because the Ukrainians wanted out of Russian orbit. And fundamentally, even though the United States have given up on and have lost a lot of the values that made America great, you know, the end of World War II for example, still the United States, Americans at base think that people of the world have the right to decide their future. They have the right to self-determination. Even the Chinese, who are much closer friends of the Russians than they are the Americans or the Ukrainians, have consistently said that the Ukrainians have the right to self-determination. Yes, that even includes Crimea, according to the Chinese. Why would they say that? And because they do think that ultimately, they are a part of an international order that needs to be stable and needs to engage with other countries around the world, not only by dint of power.

They've got plenty of hypocrisy, too, but the Russians have given up on all of that. They've become chaos actors, and they want the destruction of the international order. I don't think that Tucker Carlson has done a great disservice with the interview that's been put forward. I don't think it matters very much. And I don’t think Elon Musk has done a great disservice in putting a couple of hours out. I don't think it matters all that much, but I do think it's important for people that watch this interview to recognize that the key thing that Putin does not care about is any rights of any other countries that aren't powerful. Other than the Russians to get things done. And that's something he should care about because, you know, part of the reason the Russians are so screwed right now compared to the United States and their allies is precisely because they're not all that powerful.

And you would think that if that's the philosophy that Putin takes to the bank, that he would understand the way it applies to his country, too. Of course, dictators, narcissists, megalomaniacs, they never think that the rules that should apply to them actually do when things don't go their way. They're all sort of great at what should work for them and not when things are more challenging. Not a surprise that that is the way a dictator responds. This interview was on his territory. It was his time, and he got his message out the way he wanted to. And ultimately, none of us are going to care all that much.

That is where we are, and I hope that that was interesting and useful. Be well, and I'll talk to you all real soon.

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