March 5. 2024. 8:42

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The Brief – A Russian propaganda win on a silver plate

While former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin is yet to be aired, his pilgrimage to Moscow is already a major propaganda victory for the Kremlin.

In a video that gathered more than 70 million views by Wednesday (7 February) afternoon, Carlson announced he was interviewing Putin — the first interview the Russian leader has granted a Western media figure since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Since the war in Ukraine began, he said, Western journalists had repeatedly interviewed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whom he has previously called a “dictator”.

“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now,” he said. “They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong.”

Yes, no Western journalist has interviewed Putin since the war started. But it certainly isn’t for lack of trying – it’s because the Kremlin has declined to grant access.

That fact should make it all the more obvious why Carlson – unlike all those other media that requested an interview – has been welcomed into the Kremlin. It is unlikely to be the free and uncontrolled environment Carlson suggests that is. The interview will have had strings attached by Putin well before he agreed to it.

A reminder: Real journalism, unfortunately, is a crime in Putin’s Russia.

At least a thousand independent Russian journalists have fled the country since it invaded Ukraine over censorship laws that criminalise any coverage critical of the war.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long before a host of American and Russian journalists called BS on Carlson’s criticism of the alleged shortcomings of the Western and free-thinking Russian media.

FT’s Moscow bureau chief Max Seddon said it was quite something to complain that not enough American journalists were reporting on the Russian side of the invasion when two American journalists were “in jail right now for doing just that”.

“Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine?” Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, said. “It’s absurd — we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now.”

BBC’s Russia editor Steve Rosenberg said his media had “lodged several requests with the Kremlin in the last 18 months. Always a ‘no’ for us.”

“Poor, poor Vladimir Putin,” Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, responded. “Until now, nobody in the West has had the chance to hear him explain all the excellent reasons why he had to invade Ukraine.”

“Not in the speech that was broadcast live on every global network the morning of the invasion, and not in countless others,” Trofimov added, referring to Putin’s remarks aired on 24 February 2022.

Anne Applebaum, an American journalist and historian, pointed out that “many journalists have interviewed Putin, who also makes frequent, widely covered speeches”.

“Carlson’s interview is different because he is not a journalist, he’s a propagandist, with a history of helping autocrats conceal corruption.”

Russian journalists, many of them victims of Putin’s ongoing repression, also vented their frustration.

Asked on Wednesday why Carlson was granted an interview, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said:

“He has a position that differs from the others. It is in no way pro-Russian, nor is it pro-Ukrainian; it is pro-American. But at least, it contrasts sharply with the position of these traditional Anglo-Saxon media outlets.”

In recent years, Carlson has published more than flattering interviews with Argentina’s President Javier Milei and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, giving them a stage to push their agenda to hundreds of millions of viewers.

By default, journalists should seek to interview anyone – be it dictators, terrorists, or serial killers – but it should be an act of confrontation instead of soft-balling.

Carlson is unlikely to turn the heat on Putin with some challenging questions the current situation would call for. Besides, Putin has repeatedly ‘explained’ why he had invaded Ukraine.

What he says will be interesting for insights into how he intends to spin Russia’s current position to a Western audience.

More worrisome is that it will grant him a platform to flog unchecked Russian propaganda to the American public as it finds itself in the run-up to a massive presidential election battle between incumbent Joe Biden and the much more Putin-friendly Donald Trump.

Bearing in mind that Putin intends to widen divisions within the United States as much as possible, Carlson will do a ‘great job’ at mobilising Trump voters – the buzz he created is already a win on a silver plate.

The Roundup

Legislators from the Council of EU member states and the European Parliament reached agreement on Wednesday on a scaled-back version of what was initially pitched as an EU sovereignty fund to support green technologies.

Belgium has postponed a vote by EU ambassadors on new emission standards for trucks – initially planned for Wednesday – to Friday, after Germany withdrew its previous support for the law, leaving the majority unclear.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pledged on Wednesday to strengthen the national Food Chain Law, and to streamline the processing of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aids, to avoid what the far-right Vox party has described as “the rebellion of the tractors”.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) will be partly relied upon to meet the EU’s 2040 climate objectives, with an industrial alliance to be launched shortly and the first reactors deployed “by 2030”, the European Commission announced on Tuesday.

The Council of EU member states and the European Parliament agreed on Tuesday to label nuclear power as a strategic technology for the EU’s decarbonisation, following months of intense negotiations in Brussels over the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA).

Members of the Reconquête! party of French far-right leader Éric Zemmour have joined the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament in a bid to strengthen the right-wing camp after the EU elections in June.

The European Parliament gave the final approval on Wednesday to the new rules that will limit workers’ exposure to lead and diisocyanates and step up health protection.

The European Parliament inaugurated on Tuesday evening an exhibition dedicated to the WikiLeaks founder, journalist Julian Assange, ahead of the UK High Court’s decision on his extradition to the US, expected on 20-21 February.

The European Parliament is preparing to use TikTok during the upcoming election campaign despite EU institutions banning it from corporate devices last year due to cybersecurity concerns, the press service confirmed to Euractiv.

EU member countries and lawmakers reached an agreement on Tuesday on the bloc’s first rules to tackle violence against women, the European Parliament and officials said.

Finally, for more policy news, check out this week’s Green Brief and the Health Brief.

Look out for…

  • European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg Monday-Thursday.
  • Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis receives Ukraine’s central bank governor Andrii Pyshnyi on Thursday.
  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez visit Mauritania on Thursday.
  • Informal meeting of competitiveness ministers (Internal market and industry) Thursday-Friday.