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What did Vladimir Putin say to Tucker Carlson? Five key takeaways

On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin spent two hours being quizzed by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in a highly anticipated TV interview.

The interview took place just ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and at a time when United States politicians are pushing to restore military funding to Ukraine.

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Here are the five key takeaways:

Putin claims Clinton flip-flopped on Russia joining NATO

Putin revealed that, at some point, former US President Bill Clinton told him that Russia would have an opportunity to be welcomed into the military alliance, NATO.

“At a meeting here in the Kremlin with the outgoing President Bill Clinton, right here in the next room, I said to him, I asked him: ‘Bill, do you think if Russia asked to join NATO, do you think it would happen?’ Suddenly he said, ‘You know, it’s interesting. I think so,’” said Putin who was speaking through an interpreter.

“But in the evening, when we met for dinner, he said: ‘You know, I’ve talked to my team, no, no, it’s not possible now.’ You can ask him. I think he will watch our interview, he’ll confirm it,” the Russian president said.

“I wouldn’t have said anything like that if it hadn’t happened. Okay, well, it’s impossible now,” he added.

“Would you have joined NATO?” Carlson asked. “Look, I asked the question, is it possible, or not, and the answer I got was no,” Putin said.

“But if he had said yes, would you have joined NATO?” Carlson said.

“If he had said yes, the process of rapprochement would have commenced, and eventually it might have happened if we had seen some sincere wish on the other side of our partners. But it didn’t happen. Well, no means no. Okay, fine,” Putin said.

Putin also highlighted that they were promised that NATO would not expand to the East. “Not an inch to the East … and then what? They said, ‘Well, it’s not enshrined on paper, so we’ll expand.’”

“There were five waves of expansion. We tolerated all that. We were trying to persuade them. We were saying, ‘Please don’t. We are as bourgeois now as you are. We are a market economy, and there is no Communist Party power. Let’s negotiate’,” Putin added.

U.S. President Bill Clinton (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) confer during a ceremony to sign agreements on the establishment of a joint warning center for the exchange of information on missile launchesFormer US President Bill Clinton (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin confer during a ceremony to sign agreements on the establishment of a joint warning centre for the exchange of information on missile launches [File: Reuters]

Putin says Russia is open to releasing WSJ journalist

Putin said that it might be possible to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is awaiting trial on spying charges, in exchange for a Russian prisoner.

The Russian president suggested that, in return, Moscow wanted Germany to free Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of the 2019 murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin.

Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and accused of trying to obtain defence secrets. He and his newspaper strongly reject the charges and the US government has designated him as wrongfully detained.

“We are willing to solve it but there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached,” said Putin, stressing that Western powers will have to take what he called “reciprocal steps”.

“There have been many successful examples of these talks crowned with success. Probably this is going to be crowned with success as well but we have to come to an agreement,” said Putin.

Russia and the US have agreed high-profile prisoner swaps in the past – most recently in December 2022 when Moscow traded Brittney Griner, a US basketball star convicted of a drugs offence in Russia, for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendantsWall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in March while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Putin called any US military support of Ukraine a ‘provocation’

Carlson asked Putin: “Can you imagine a scenario where Russia is ready to send troops to Poland?”

“Only in one case if Poland attacks Russia, why? Because we have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Putin said.

US politicians have said we “have to continue to fund the Ukrainian effort, or US soldier citizens could wind up fighting there. How do you assess that?” Carlson asked. That argument is based on the fact that Poland and the Baltic states are NATO members, and the alliance’s principle of collective security would kick in if any if them were attacked, necessitating US forces to intervene directly.

“This is a provocation. I do not understand why American soldiers should fight in Ukraine,” Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with U.S. television host Tucker CarlsonRussian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with US television host Tucker Carlson in Moscow  [Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik, via Reuters]

“Well, if somebody has the desire to send regular troops, that would certainly bring humanity to the brink of a very serious global conflict. This is obvious,” Putin added.

“Do the United States need this? What for? Thousands of miles away from your national territory. Don’t you have anything better to do? You’ve issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt… you have nothing better to do, so you should fight in Ukraine?

“Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia? Make an agreement. Already understanding the situation that is developing today, realising that Russia will fight for its interests to the end.”

Putin also said a solution would be possible if the US stopped supplying weapons.

“If you really want to stop fighting, you need to stop supplying weapons. It will be over within a few weeks, that’s it, and then we can agree on some terms. Before you do that, stop,” Putin said.

‘Who blew up Nord Stream?’ Putin suggests it was the CIA

Putin also blamed the CIA for the explosions of the Nord Stream pipelines, cutting off a major route for Russian gas exports to Europe and fuelling geopolitical tensions.

“Who blew up Nord Stream?” Carlson asked. Putin replied: “You, for sure.”

Carlson jokingly responded, “I was busy that day”. Putin said, “You personally might have an alibi, but the CIA has not such alibi”.

“Do you have evidence that NATO or the CIA did it,” Carlson said. The Russian president responded he “won’t get into details” but you should “look for someone who is interested” and who “has capabilities”.

Many people might be interested but not all “of them are capable of sinking to the bottom of the Baltic Sea and carrying out this explosion”, Putin said.

Nord streamA gas leak from Nord Stream 1 is seen in the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea in this picture taken from the Swedish Coast Guard aircraft on September 28, 2022 [Reuters]

Advances in AI and genetics are a threat, Putin said

Putin said the world is changing faster than “during the collapse of the Roman Empire”.

He also said: “Mankind is currently facing many threats due to the genetic researchers – it is now possible to create this superhuman. A specialised human being. A genetically engineered athlete, scientist, military man. There are reports that Elon Musk has already had the chip implanted in the human brain in the US.”

“What do you think of that?” Carlson asked

“I think there’s no stopping Elon Musk. He will do as he sees fit,” Putin said.

“Nevertheless, you need to find some common ground with him, search for ways to persuade him,” Putin explained.

He said that humanity needed to think about what to do about the advances in genetics and artificial intelligence and suggested the nuclear arms control treaties of the Cold War could be a guide.

“When there arises an understanding that the boundless and uncontrolled development of artificial intelligence or genetics or some other modern trends, cannot be stopped, that these researches will still exist just as it was impossible to hide gunpowder from humanity… when humanity feels a threat to itself, to humanity as a whole, then, it seems to me, there will come a period to negotiate at the interstate level on how we will regulate this,” Putin added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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