The interview, which has yet to air, would be the first interview Putin has granted to a Western journalist since he launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.
Carlson’s presentation of the interview has drawn intense criticism from independent Russian journalists who have called it a propaganda victory for the Kremlin and accused Carlson of whitewashing Putin’s crackdown on media and freedom of speech in Russia since the invasion.
In a video teasing the interview posted on X Tuesday night, Carlson said he was interviewing Putin to hear his perspective on the war, claiming that the Russian leader has been ignored by major Western media organizations. Carlson falsely claimed Western media organizations had “not bothered” to interview Putin since the start of the invasion.
"Since the day the war in Ukraine began, American media outlets have spoken to scores of people from Ukraine and they have done scores of interviews with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. But not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country involved in this conflict, Vladimir Putin," Carlson said.
In reality, many major international outlets regularly make requests to interview Putin, but the Kremlin has declined to accept them since the invasion. Putin for many years has also refused to give interviews to independent Russian journalists apart from those working for state and pro-Kremlin media.
The Kremlin itself on Wednesday contradicted Carlson, saying Putin receives many interview requests from Western media but has no desire to speak with them.
“Mr. Carlson is not correct. In fact, there’s no way he could know this. We receive numerous requests for interviews with the president,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. But, he said, “there’s no desire to communicate with this kind of media” because of what he said was its failure to be "impartial."
Peskov said the Kremlin had chosen to speak with Carlson because his position “stands in sharp contrast” to the rest of Western media.
Carlson has long expressed positions that often align with the Kremlin's, saying before the invasion that he was "rooting for Moscow."
"By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine. He is winning the war in Ukraine and Joe Biden looks at that and says we won’t stop until you proffer an unconditional surrender,” Carlson claimed in August 2022, shortly before a Ukrainian counteroffensive liberated much of the north east Kharkiv region.
Carlson has also been a critic of the Biden administration's support for Ukraine, arguing that Putin is not a threat to the United States and suggesting the U.S. has stoked the conflict. Carlson has disparaged Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who he has called a “dictator,” “rat-like” and “sweaty.”
On Tuesday, Carlson said his team had also requested an interview with Zelenskyy.
Carlson’s positions have long attracted positive attention in Russia, with his clips aired on state media, which portrays him as a truth-teller. After he was abruptly fired from Fox last year, the state channel Russia 24 even aired a trailer for an imagined Russian show anchored by Carlson.
His arrival in Moscow has been met with breathless coverage in pro-Kremlin and state media, which has closely tracked his visit. A photo captured of Carlson at the Bolshoi ballet theater has circulated widely on Russian social media, and some news agencies even carried photos and reports of him visiting a supermarket.
One talk show compared Carlson’s visit to Jane Fonda’s anti-war trip to Vietnam in 1972. On Tuesday, the Evening Moscow newspaper carried a photo of Carlson on its front page with the headline: "Carlson, who lives in America, but speaks the truth."
In his teaser video, Carson said his interview was a defiant demonstration of "freedom of speech," alleging there was an effort to silence him and accusing Western media outlets of being "corrupt" and creating propaganda to promote Zelenskyy.
“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now. They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong,” Carlson said.
Many prominent independent Russian journalists, however, accused Carlson of acting as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Kremlin and expressed outrage at his free speech claims, given the intense crackdown by Putin’s government on independent media and dissent during the war.
“Unbelievable! I am like hundreds of Russian journalists who have had to go into exile to keep reporting about the Kremlin's war against Ukraine. The alternative was to go to jail,” Yevgenia Albats, a well-known liberal journalist and editor of The New Times, wrote on X responding to Carlson’s video. “And now [Carlson] is teaching us about good journalism,” she wrote, using an expletive about the former Fox anchor.
Since early 2022, the Kremlin has introduced draconian laws criminalizing criticism of the war. Virtually all independent media organizations have been closed or driven abroad, along with hundreds of journalists. Reporters, activists and ordinary citizens who have spoken against the war have been arrested and some given lengthy prison sentences.
Two American reporters -- Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal and Alsu Kurmasheva of Radio Free Liberty -- are currently detained by Russia on charges widely condemned as politically motivated.
Albats and others said Putin’s willingness to speak with Carlson -- but not other international news organizations or independent Russian journalists -- showed the Kremlin saw it as an opportunity to use him as a sympathetic mouthpiece to broadcast its message to millions of Americans.
The Russian media's excitement around Carlson's visit has also irritated some pro-war Russian nationalists, who see it as an embarrassing veneration of Americans.
“I am watching an amazing thing with interest: How people who ridicule Ukrainians for their subservient prostration before European politicians and public figures are meticulously recording Tucker Carlson's every move and sneeze in Moscow,” Andrei Medvedev, a Moscow City Duma deputy and former state TV presenter, wrote on his Telegram account.
“He flew in, he ate, he drank tea. How wonderful, an American has come to visit us! How happy we are. Comrades, do you feel bipolar?" Medvedev added.