By Annie Domini
At the moment of writing this column, over 160 million views have been garnered on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) in a span of 24 hours by what’s now being touted as the most definitive interview of the decade, that of Russian President Vladimir Putin by the American journalist Tucker Carlson, inside the Kremlin, Moscow. Lasting about two hours and seven minutes, this unscripted, free-wheeling interview breaks many, many grounds in its geopolitical significance, and comes at a time when the Russia-Ukraine (NATO) war is nearing the end of its second year, and doesn’t look like it would be over anytime soon.
Before the airing of the interview, the usual suspects in the neoliberal American media were busy stirring up hysteria, going to the extent of branding Carlson a traitor for daring to speak to Putin, with some even suggesting imposing sanctions against him. Bipartisan Russophobia notwithstanding, ordinary Americans were indeed hungry for a glimpse of an unfiltered, uncensored perspective from the long-time Russian president. That Carlson managed to secure the interview and got Putin to sit down and talk for over two hours, charting the complexities of over a 1000-year-old Russian history, its legitimate grievances against America, NATO and the collective West, the string of agreements which the US-led West reneged on — including the one in which NATO said it would not expand eastwards and threaten Russian security — is in itself a staggering feat. From Dostoevsky to the ‘Russian soul’, Putin’s incredible grasp of history and contemporary geopolitical trends put him in a class apart, perhaps along with Chinese President Xi Jinping alone, and none else in the world stage.
According to US geopolitical commentator and former military man Scott Ritter, this was “very much a tour de force by the Russian President where he was introducing an American audience to the nuances of Russian history, into the complexities of the Russian soul. And, if you don’t understand Russian history, and you don’t understand the Russian soul, then you’re basically on a journey without a map… The Russian president helped create a map, a map that guided not only Carlson, but every American viewer through the complexities of what makes Russia tick.” Ritter sums up brilliantly the longue-durée historical perspective so valued by not just Russia, but much of the Global South, which is in stark contrast with the convenient imperial amnesia of the American-led Western hegemony, or what it euphemistically calls its ‘rules-based international order’.
Putin’s dwelling on the formative history of the Russian nation, the intimate connections of its landmass, landscape with the language, faith and the people, sheds an invaluable light on the origin of the Russia-Ukraine war, which Carlson came to appreciate in the course of the history-lesson masquerading as an interview. Carlson realized, as he admitted in a later recording posted as a prologue to the interview, that what the Russian president did was not at all a filibuster, or a way to escape direct questioning, but an exposition of the broadest scale. Putin explained why the so-called Russia-Ukraine war didn’t start on February 24, 2022, but that it was only a reaction to the unacceptable reign of terror unleashed on the people of the Donbas, the eastern portion of Ukraine with Russian-speaking majority, since the Euromaidan coup in Kiev in 2014. Thus, Putin carefully demolished the Western argument that the Russian invasion was ‘unprovoked’: indeed, Putin underscored how deep the provocations were, and how the people on both sides of the border were upset with Putin for not coming to their rescue sooner.
Similarly, Putin narrated how the West repeatedly went back on agreements, including Minsk I and II, with European leaders, such as the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitting that those agreements were meant to simply buy time, arm Ukraine to the teeth and eventually use it as a cannon-fodder to provoke Russia into a bloody Slav-versus-Slav war, so as to destroy the Russian economy through a thousand cuts. Putin also lamented how his initial earnest entreaties to former American President Bill Clinton of letting Russia be a part of NATO, or at least a common global security architecture, were rebuffed. Putin said his country has always wanted peace and dialogue, as well as cooperation along global security lines, only to be turned down multiple times.
Not only that, America-led NATO repeatedly crossed what Russia considered its ‘red lines’, and carried out five waves of expansion since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the various Soviet republics declared independence. Russia’s demands were simple: NATO wouldn’t come to its borders, and the Russian Federation’s international border would be along the preferably neutral former Soviet republics. Not only did the NATO expansion brought within its military ambit Eastern European countries like Poland. Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999, but went on to include post-Soviet states like Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004. While Russia was livid at these developments, it was too battered from the post-Soviet neoliberal shock to effectively stop the NATO enlargement directly aimed at threatening its geopolitical security. In 2008, proposal to include Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was floated, and that is when Russia drew a line.
While Ukraine had been long cultivated by the West as a fulcrum against Russia, it had relatively neutral governments until 2014, since Ukraine’s economy was greatly subsidized by the Russian giant next door, propping it up with cheap energy, agriculture and other sectors. However, post 2014 Maidan coup, a virulently anti-Russia leadership was installed in Kiev, which gradually included members of the far-right groups such as the Azov that sport Nazi insignia and idolize Nazi-era criminals like Stephan Bandera, among others. These neo-Nazi militias wreaked havoc on the residents of the Donbas region, carrying out executions, bombings, and other atrocities, while disenfranchising them, and discouraging the use of the Russian language. For eight years, the serial atrocities continued along with arming of the neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian military with heavy weaponry, and state-of-the-art missiles, grooming them to eventually fight Russia. The Western narrative of an “unprovoked” war falls flat when studied under the lens of contemporary geopolitical events as Putin illustrated, a huge contrast with the infantile “good vs. evil” binaries regurgitated by the Euro-American leaders and their corporate media.
“The origins of Putin’s outlook lie in the new, special type of state which emerged with the Soviet Union, alongside its unique relationship to historical time… it has basis, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the Marxist-Leninist outlook … a training in master-class Soviet education,” says Haz Al-Din, an American geopolitical commentator critical of the establishment. Putin may not be a communist, but he’s nevertheless a dyed-in-the-wool historical materialist, a world-statesman with a firm grasp of the past, the present, with a shared vision for the common future. This is aptly summed up in Putin’s answer to Carlson’s question on what the Russian president thought of the division of the world into two camps, much worse than the Cold War era. Putin replied that a human brain may be divided into left and right hemispheres, but still needs to work as a whole, else it would be a disease, a serious mental illness. Putin likened the current global situation to such an illness.
Putin also effectively countered an attempt by Carlson to rile up Sinophobia, when he asked if China would dominate the BRICS countries, and wouldn’t it be a case of replacing one colonial power with another. Putin replied that it’s the same “boogeyman” story concocted by the collective West, and that China’s political philosophy isn’t aggression, instead it is cooperation. Putin said that with 1.4 billion people, China’s rise is like that of the sun, and it’s fruitless to resist it, one must adapt to it. With this, Putin firmly underscored the unparalleled significance of the Russia-China ties, calling Xi his ‘colleague’, showering praise on the Chinese leadership, thereby amply demonstrating that Moscow and Beijing are now joined at the hips.
Historians are gradually coming to terms with the emergence of these two ‘civilisation states’, which value their people, territorial and historical integrity, and believe in an organic, holistic, continual existence of its land, language, people and traditions. This is a stark contrast of the historical nihilism of the West which sacrifices everything at the altar of capital and colonial plunder, that ultimately ends up depriving the ordinary citizens of these very countries, as the empire turns on itself like the snake eating its own tail. Vladimir Putin laid bare the alternative to Western nihilism and historical amnesia at a time when the President of the United States is not being able to string a coherent sentence together. The contrast is way too glaring for comfort, especially for an American. (IPA Service)