Thursday offered a remarkable contrast between the two world leaders. Tucker Carlson released his much-anticipated interview with Vladimir Putin on alternative media hours before Joe Biden addressed the White House press on the question of whether he is a senile man suffering from significant mental decline.
On the one hand, Putin is one of the few guests that made Carlson seem, at times, out of his depth. The Russian president started the interview by responding to a question about the outbreak of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine with 1,200 years of Russian history. In comparison, the American president confused Egypt with Mexico.
In many ways the two men were fitting illustrations of their two nations. Putin, a strong autocrat, was composed and confident. He passed over an easy attempt to flatter America’s leading critic of his geopolitical rival in favor of projecting strength, even taking a shot at Carlson’s failure to join the CIA after college. In Biden, the American people were offered an angry and weak man being propped up by evil and desperate people by any means necessary. A cynic may suggest it’s a fitting testament to the virtues of democracy, if one believes in the integrity of the 2020 election.
The differences between Putin and Biden, however, are low-hanging fruit. What is more interesting is the similarities between the two world leaders.
The obvious failures of modern America make it understandable for critics of the regime to project onto Washington’s enemies virtuous characteristics. Putin, in particular, has developed one of the best online PR campaigns of any modern leader. Before there was God-emperor Trump, there was macho, bear-riding Vlad: champion of Christendom, sworn enemy of the degenerate West, and the very embodiment of nationalist fervor that globalist elites despise.
This projection from the very online, anti-regime right has always rested on insecure foundations. Putin’s Russia has long suffered from high rates of addiction, abortion, and suicide. While the Russian government condemns these facts while US officials often seek to normalize them, international branches of their official state media RT has had no problem elevating leftist narratives abroad.
More substantial, however, is Putin’s rejection of nationalism in favor of his own form of political consolidation.
Here, Putin’s long history lesson to Tucker is very illustrative.
Carlson’s question about 2022 was served up as an easy opportunity for Putin share with a largely American audience a similar version of modern Russian-Ukrainian history that Tucker himself has touched on occasionally over the past two years: Russia’s actions in Ukraine were a direct response to foreign policy arrogance from Washington. Putin feared Western aggression, so he attempted to take Kyiv.
Instead, Putin’s lecture made it clear that, in his mind, questions of Ukrainian sovereignty are beside the point. Ukraine belongs to Russia because of its history. The entire notion of a separate Ukrainian identity is a fiction. They are a family, separated simply due to past failures of the Russian state, failures that Putin is now able to rectify. Those who are slaughtered as a result are simply the costs of a family reunion.
Many Very Serious American pundits will clutch their pearls at Putin’s version of Ukrainian history, but of course they have similar convictions within the context of the US. In their books, the people of the South were traitors that deserved to have their cities burned, economies devastated, and their right to self-governance stripped from them for years after the Civil War. Biden has not yet launched cruise missiles into Texas, but he has threatened to bomb Texans with fighter jets paid with their tax dollars.
Another commonality is the desire to erase historical figures that are inconvenient to the aspirations of imperial capitols.
This was on display when Carlson asked Putin to clarify what he meant by “de-Nazification.” This was perhaps the one moment where Putin seemed to actively play up to Carlson’s audience, offering red meat in the form of mocking Justin Trudeau’s government for honoring a Ukrainian World War II survivor who fought against the Soviet Union. This, of course, meant fighting on the side of the Axis.
While there are hours of podcast fodder to be had debating the merits of the service provided by Ukrainian soldiers in the 1940s, what really matters is the question of what de-Nazification means in 2024 as a condition for peace in Ukraine.
To his credit, Carlson pushes Putin on this point. While the Russian president failed to provide a clear answer, he seemed to favor similar approach to how Germany addressed its history – and how the left has treated the South. This means the removal of any public displays or celebrations of historical figures that stand opposed to the victorious, conquering forces. Putin can no more stand a statue of Stepan Bandera than Joe Biden can allow a celebration of Robert E. Lee.
The plight of Ukrainian nationalists is one of the great tragedies of the war. On one side is an invading military that seeks to eradicate its existence. On the other, a Western-back government that aspires the cultural homogenization that is a key characteristic of the American empire. Both Moscow and Washington are motivated by their own form of imperialism.
These underlying similarities between the animating ideologies of Biden and Putin do not undermine the real value that Carlson’s interview provides for America, a look at the hypocrisy of the American regime. While Washington tries to depict Putin as a cartoonish villain, a modern-day Hitler (or worse, a more fit Donald Trump), in reality, he has a lot more in common with the most competent and entrenched figures of the American state.
Neither care about democracy or elections and will lock up political opponents if they become a real threat. Neither have any respect for nationalism or political self-determination if it thwarts their political ambitions. Both will make rhetorical claims to “human rights” and the plight of oppressed minorities, while having no issues sending thousands into the meat grinder of war.
Neither have the moral high ground.
Putin’s military adventures just happen to be cheaper and closer to home.