We Watched Tucker’s Putin Interview So You Don’t Have To

Democracy Examined

Here are five things about Ukraine and Russia that Putin and Tucker would never have wanted to discuss

Disgraced former FOX host Tucker Carlson dropped his interview with Russia’s Vladimir Putin last night and it landed with a resounding thud. Tucker sat for two hours with a vacant expression on his face as the dictator ranted about everything from his revisionist view of Russian and Soviet history to an astonishingly incomplete recounting of the invasion of Ukraine. 

For an interview between one of America’s most noxious agents of disinformation and a war criminal with an international arrest warrant out on him, the exchange actually verged on boring. Everything Putin said will be old news to anyone who has read the Russian president’s statements or heard his speeches on Ukraine—all readily available and widely translated into English. While we were surprised by just how dull the interview was, Putin would never have allowed anything but softball questions from a pliant interlocutor. Real journalists in Russia, whether domestic or foreign, risk jailor worse

But Tucker went so easy that it seemed like even Putin was getting bored. Either that, or he just enjoys tormenting useful idiots and sycophantic supporters (Remember this bizarre exchange between the Russian president and his own intelligence chief?). At one point, Putin actually told Tucker that the answer to his question was “easy to find on the Internet”—later, the disinterested dictator offered Carlson a simple “We can look it up.” So, in that spirit, here are five things about Ukraine and Russia that “are easy to find on the Internet”—things Putin and Tucker would never have wanted to discuss. 

1. Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel

During the interview, Putin referenced the 2022 Russian withdrawal from Kyiv as a voluntary act of good faith on his part. But the Russians didn’t magnanimously withdraw from the Ukrainian capital: they were forced to retreat by the Ukrainian military. And as they pulled back, they left carnage in their wake.

In the first weeks of the full-scale invasion, Russian troops occupied several Kyiv suburbs, including Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. In Bucha, the Russians murdered over 400 people in cold blood, including children and the elderly. Many were tortured, with soldiers taking painful shots at their victims’ arms and legs before delivering the fatal blow. The New York Times picked up satellite imagery that revealed civilians cut down execution-style in the streets, their remains left out for weeks. “On a single day, I picked up about 30 bodies,” Serhiy Kaplishny, a coroner in Bucha reported, “13 of whom were men whose hands had been tied and who had been shot in the head at close range.” 

In Irpin, Russia’s forces massacred as many as 300 civilians. And in Hostomel, the Russian occupiers shot the town’s mayor, Yurii Prylypko, while he was delivering medicine to his constituents. The Russians murdered another civilian who was accompanying Prylypko and then killed a third who tried to help his stricken neighbors. Tragically, these are just a handful of examples from the first weeks of Russia’s assault. Moscow’s atrocities are well-documented and continue to this day. As Ukraine liberates more territory, more war crimes will inevitably come to light.

2. The Kidnapping of Ukrainian Children to Russia and Belarus

Putin has been fairly transparent about his belief that Ukraine is an artificial state. He didn’t elaborate with Tucker—and Tucker didn’t bother to ask—what this belief looks like in practice. The war hasn’t just meant the physical devastation of Ukraine, but an attempt to destroy the country’s social and cultural fabric as well. Among the most vile methods Moscow has adopted in service of this sinister goal is the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and its proxy, Belarus.

As of July 2023, the Kremlin reported that it had relocated 700,000 Ukrainian children to Russia. That’s over 1.5% of Ukraine’s entire pre-war population, kids and adults alike. Another 2,400 have been taken to Belarus, according to the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. These children are separated from their families—contrary to Russian claims, many of their parents are still alive. Not only that, their connections with Ukrainian language and heritage are severed, replaced with “patriotic” Russian education. 

The abduction of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and Moscow’s efforts to Russify them constitute an act of genocide. It’s a naked attempt to wipe out Ukraine’s national patrimony. And it has earned Putin an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

3. Putin is a Wanted Man

Speaking of the International Criminal Court, Putin didn’t volunteer the fact that he’s wanted for war crimes (I mean, who would?), and Tucker didn’t probe him about it. But in March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the Russian dictator and Maria Lvova-Belova (who holds the Orwellian title of commissioner for children’s rights) over their involvement in the illegal deportation and transfer of Ukrainian youths.

Russia isn’t a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC (the United States and Ukraine aren’t either, although the latter has recognized the court’s jurisdiction for crimes committed on its territory). But over 100 countries have signed on, and they are legally obligated to arrest Putin if he crosses their borders. 

That count includes South Africa, a country with a Moscow-friendly government and a member of the BRICS bloc, along with Brazil, Russia, India, and China. This created an uncomfortable situation for Putin when he was set to visit Johannesburg for the BRICS summit last summer. South Africa’s leaders conceded that arresting Putin would be tantamount to war, and most countries are unlikely to put the Russian leader in handcuffs. But it nevertheless makes trips abroad more awkward for Putin, who ultimately opted not to go to South Africa. Indeed, since the war in Ukraine began, the Russian president’s international travel schedule has been significantly rolled back. Not to worry. Putin has stolen so much money from the Russian Treasury, he can now relax in his choice of billion-dollar palaces.

4. The Massacre in Mariupol

The Russian siege of Mariupol on the Azov coast turned a city of over 400,000 into a mostly-abandoned hellscape. One of the most horrific atrocities during the assault—on a list that presents some tough competition—was the Russian Air Force’s March 2022 bombing of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater, where over 1,000 civilians were sheltering at the time.

It wasn’t just that the Russians struck a building full of noncombatants. It’s the fact that they did so with full knowledge of who was inside. Pilots flying warplanes above the city would have been able to see “дети” (dyeti)—the Russian word for “children”—written in massive block letters on both sides of the plaza abutting the theater.

Initial reports put the death toll from the Russian airstrike at around 300. Within weeks, it became clear that at least twice as many were killed, mostly women, children, and the elderly.

This, of course, is just one example of Russia’s horrific actions in Mariupol. Because Mariupol remains under Russian occupation, it will be a while yet before we know the full extent of Russian atrocities across the city.

5. What “Denazification” Actually Means

Tucker Carlson never challenged the premise of Putin’s self-proclaimed mission to “denazify” Ukraine. For a decade now, the Russian autocrat has used denazification as a pretext to wreak havoc on his smaller neighbor’s territory, and he raised this objective at multiple junctures throughout the two hour-interview published Thursday. Carlson also failed to ask what fighting a war against Ukraine’s imaginary Nazi regime means for the country’s Jewish population.

You may be aware that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, but the country is also home to one of Europe’s larger Jewish communities. Israeli journalist Sam Sokol puts the pre-war figure at about 70,000, although tens of thousands more have Jewish ancestry. 

Since 2014, and especially after February 2022, this population has been in the line of fire. Russian forces have damaged and destroyed multiple synagogues, Jewish schools, and cultural centers. The Russians have even attacked the city of Uman, which, despite the war, remains a pilgrimage destination for religious Jews. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Jews are serving alongside their non-Jewish compatriots on the frontlines. Some Israelis with ties to Ukraine have even volunteered to join the fight against the Russian invaders.

Russian talk of denazification is cynical and dangerous disinformation. The fact is, Putin’s actions represent the most immediate threat to the safety of Jews—and all people—in Ukraine since Hitler’s troops marched in over eighty years ago. 

To say that these five points, which Putin and Tucker conveniently glossed over, are just the tip of the iceberg would be an incredible understatement. Tucker fancies himself a journalist, while fans like Elon Musk laud him as a free speech champion. He’s neither, of course; just a sleazy propagandist past his prime. He couldn’t be bothered to spare a word for his nominal counterparts, the countless Ukrainian and Russian reporters whom Moscow persecutes, jails, and kills just for doing their jobs. Tucker and Putin discuss 2014, but not the “little green men”—the unmarked Russian soldiers dispatched in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Tucker asked Putin about his Christianity but not about the Russian military’s destruction of Ukrainian churches. He didn’t inquire about MH17, the Malaysian Airlines jet, which Russian-backed separatists shot down over the Donbas. Just two years ago a Dutch court convicted in absentia three Russian intelligence officers for murder for their participation in the incident. Naturally, Tucker didn’t ask about Russia’s interference in American politics, inflaming domestic tensions and energizing bitter and disaffected viewers—Carlson’s core audience. 

I could go on. A comprehensive review of the Kremlin’s record—something Tucker would never consider and Putin would never permit—would be even more overwhelming than cramming twelve centuries of quasi-historical ramblings about the origins of Russia and Ukraine into a single meandering thirty-minute lecture. So consider the above a jumping off point. Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin are banking on you taking their words at face value. Don’t.

Open a book, preferably one by a credentialed historian or political scientist—we recommend Serhii Plokhy’s The Last Empire and The Russo-Ukrainian WarYou can take Timothy Snyder’s open online course The Making of Modern Ukraine. Or, if you’re a little short on time and want to learn the truth about Ukraine and Russia, just remember that—to quote Putin—“it is easy to find out on the internet.”

Uriel Epshtein is CEO of the Renew Democracy Initiative. Evan Gottesman is the chief of staff at RDI.