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Tucker Carlson, Russian President Putin: boring election commercial

Photo: Gavriil Grigorov / SNA / IMAGO

For people who have been watching Tucker Carlson for a long time, his affectionate visit to Russia's autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin didn't come as much of a surprise. Long before the Russian march on Kiev, Carlson began raving about Putin, defending him and protecting him. Now the former Fox News presenter and current freelance propagandist was involved in a Russian propaganda coup in the middle of the election campaign, in which Putin praised his "personal relationship" with Donald Trump. A boring, 2-hour election commercial for the Russian dictator and the would-be dictator Trump.

When Russian troops gathered in Donets and Luhansk on February 22, 2022, and US President Joe Biden declared these were the first steps of an invasion, Carlson was already there. Back then at Fox News, he gave a bizarre TV monologue that consisted of nothing but rhetorical questions. A large number of Americans were obediently following a "directive," Carlson claimed, that they were "obliged" to "hate Vladimir Putin."

From pandemic conspiracy narratives to “Deep State”

Americans should ask themselves, "Why do I hate Putin so much?" Has Putin ever called me 'racist'? Did he threaten to fire me because I disagree with him?" The questions all pointed in the same direction: In reality, the problem is the "woke" left in the USA, not the nice warlord in Moscow.

The answer to all his questions is "no," says Carlson, "so why does permanent Washington hate him?" Permanent Washington (

permanent Washington

) is a Carlson cipher for what right-wing US conspiracy ideologists otherwise like to call the "Deep State."

Carlson didn't take a particularly exotic position - for the MAGA-brainwashed part of the US population. The American right considers Putin an ally, one who shares its values. Even if it wasn't said so loudly for a while. Right-wing opinion influencers like Jordan B. Peterson steadfastly repeat Russian propaganda claims such as that Russia only wanted to protect itself from NATO.

“Anti-woke”, “genius”

A few days before the invasion, former Blackwater mercenary boss Eric Prince and Trump's ex-campaign manager Steve Bannon discussed in a video podcast that, thank God, Putin was "not woke" but "anti-woke." Prince added: "The Russians still know which toilet to use." Trump himself called Putin "brilliant" days before the invasion of Ukraine.

The enthusiasm for Russia's autocrats hardly suffered as a result of the Russian war of aggression with tens of thousands of deaths. “The hatred and contempt of MAGA Americans for Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian cause is shockingly intense,” author, ex-soldier and constitutional lawyer David French just noted in the New York Times. He traces the anti-Ukrainian narrative of the Trump world back to before the US election in 2016. At that time, Putin's hackers and trolls were known to support Trump to the best of their ability, even then in step with the radical right in the USA.

Standard pattern of Russian propaganda

There, in the “tailor-made reality” of the US right, the conspiracy narrative that was planted at the time continues to exist that it was not Russia but Ukraine that influenced the US election. It was picked up again and again in relevant US publications from the right-wing media bubble. The story follows a familiar pattern of Russian propaganda: accusing others of what you do yourself.

Vladimir Putin has not only ensnared the radical right in the USA but also worldwide for many years with a lot of effort - and, as we now know, also with a lot of money. For many years, Russia's right-wing extremist propagandists, for example, had worked on an alliance called the "World National-Conservative Movement" (WNCM). The association also included the German NPD. To this day, Russia maintains close ties to international right-wing extremists, including terrorists.

There are even audio recordings

But Putin's people also maintained contacts with Marine LePen's French right-wing party - and provided her with a cheap loan when she was on the verge of bankruptcy. As "The Insider" just revealed, they planned to use a manipulated oil deal to funnel up to $65 million to Matteo Salvini's right-wing extremist Lega in Italy. Matteo Salvini, on the other hand, liked to be photographed wearing a Putin T-shirt. Today he is deputy prime minister in Italy, but Giorgia Meloni has so far remained loyal to Ukraine. The Russia-Lega deal was brokered by an officer from the Russian foreign intelligence service FSB.

There are even audio recordings of the meeting since 2019. The financial details and who was there have only now come out. The entire, long "insider" text, which contains many more details about Russia's cooperation with the international right, is well worth reading.

The Austrian FPÖ, namely the protagonists of the “Ibiza affair”, also maintained intensive contacts with Russia. The FPÖ even concluded a “contract” with Dmitri Medvedev’s United Russia party, and they promised each other support. The German AfD is also doing what Putin wants. SPIEGEL and "The Insider" recently revealed that an employee of an AfD MP apparently works for the FSB (the person concerned denies this). According to the report, his command officer works for the “fifth service” of the FSB – just like the man who met with Lega representatives in Italy in 2018 to offer them millions upon millions in oil money.

None of this is surprising - after all, AfD members of the Bundestag are openly making Russian conspiracy claims.

“They serve each other reciprocally”

Putin's people cozied up to virtually the entire radical right of Europe, from Greece's Golden Dawn to Nigel Farage's Ukip, from Hungary's Jobbik to Romania's Ataka.

Historian and Russia expert Timothy Snyder told "The Insider": "The more you know about the Russian secret services and international fascism, the clearer it becomes that they serve each other mutually."

The whole thing was and is constantly flanked by Russia's network of propaganda channels, especially RT with an annual budget of around 400 million US dollars.

But the network for covert propaganda is much, much larger. The recently uncovered troll army of 50,000 X-Accounts, which spread pro-Russian propaganda and fake news texts in German, is only a tiny sample. The documented examples are too numerous to detail here, but here are a few examples:

  • A troll network targeting politicians and audiences in the UK, South Africa and India, uncovered by British experts

  • Cash payments, regular salaries from Russia to celebrities and politicians in Bulgaria, with the task of spreading propaganda

  • Paid propaganda influencers on TikTok 

  • $6.8 million for a US news anchor and conspiracy theorist

  • Massive hacking and disinformation campaigns, also organized by a complex of supplier companies, keyword “Vulkan Files”

  • The infamous St. Petersburg troll factory, about which a lot is now known, including salaries and shift systems. She undoubtedly intervened in the 2016 US election campaign and campaigned for the AfD in Germany.

Incidentally, in 2016 at the latest, the Petersburg troll factory began to spread the propaganda narrative that Vladimir Putin took up again in his conversation with Carlson: the claim that Ukraine is actually a country dominated by Nazis. At that time, Putin's trolls distributed a video in which the right-wing Ukrainian Azov Battalion allegedly announced terrorist attacks in the Netherlands. Russia actually maintains real relations with neo-Nazis, but supposedly wants to “denazify” Ukraine.

Everyone knows they exist, everyone looks the other way

Russia's propaganda efforts and its long-term strategic influence operations are a bit like the climate crisis: everyone knows it exists, but the overall picture is so monstrous and the effect is so slow at the same time that it keeps disappearing from view seem to disappear.

Vladimir Putin, Russia's secret services and propaganda apparatus have a lot of staying power, clear goals and a clear strategy. And very deep pockets, thanks to oil and gas. Almost all typical talking points of the right-wing radical and conspiracy ideology scene in Europe and the USA have references to Russian propaganda narratives.

For example, Vladimir Putin has demonstrably hated George Soros for about 20 years - Soros is a very unpleasant opponent for him. Today, Soros is a central figure in Western conspiracy narratives, which Elon Musk is now spreading to his hundreds of millions of X-followers. And now Musk's X, together with Carlson, is giving Putin an audience of millions. Harmony everywhere. Putin retaliated in the Carlson interview with a compliment for Musk: He was "unstoppable" and a "smart person."


Christian Stöcker

Men who burn the world

Publisher: Ullstein

Number of pages: 336

Publisher: Ullstein

Number of pages: 336

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My impression is that the duration, extent and success of Russian influence operations in the West are still not sufficiently known, present and examined. This is (also) a failure of Western secret services, which are the only ones with the means to make agreements and money flows truly visible. But also a consequence of European and American naivety in the face of a state with a lot of very rich ex-spies at the top.

How useful this strategic influence can be is shown by the events in the US Congress: A lot of money and many hours of work can be invested by trolls and agents in order to deny further military aid to Ukraine. Putin's seeds seem to be growing.