iexclusivenews – On Thursday, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson had a rare opportunity to grill President Vladimir Putin for two hours in a televised interview.
The interview came just before the second anniversary of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and amid growing pressure from US lawmakers to restore military aid to Ukraine.
Here are the top five highlights from the explosive interview:
Putin Admits Clinton Backtracked on NATO Invitation
Putin claimed that former US President Bill Clinton once told him that Russia could join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance that was formed to counter the Soviet threat.
“I asked him at a meeting here in the Kremlin, right in the next room: ‘Bill, do you think Russia could join NATO if it wanted to?’ He said, ‘You know, that’s interesting. I think so,'” Putin said through an interpreter.
“But later that evening, when we had dinner, he said: ‘You know, I talked to my team, no, no, it’s not possible now.’ You can ask him. I think he’ll watch our interview, he’ll confirm it,” the Russian leader said.
“I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it hadn’t happened. Well, it’s impossible now,” he added.
Carlson pressed Putin: “Would you have joined NATO?” Putin replied: “I asked the question, is it possible or not, and the answer was no.”
“But if he had said yes, would you have joined NATO?” Carlson persisted.
“If he had said yes, the process of rapprochement would have begun, and maybe it would have happened if we had seen some genuine desire from our partners. But it didn’t happen. Well, no means no. Fine,” Putin said.
Putin also accused NATO of breaking its promise not to expand eastward. “Not an inch to the east … and then what? They said, ‘Well, it’s not written on paper, so we’ll expand.'”
“There were five waves of expansion. We tolerated all that. We tried to persuade them. We said, ‘Please don’t. We are as capitalist as you are. We have a market economy, and there is no Communist Party power. Let’s negotiate,'” Putin said.
Putin Hints at Prisoner Swap for Jailed Journalist
Putin said that he was willing to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is facing trial on espionage charges, in exchange for a Russian prisoner.
He suggested that Moscow wanted Germany to free Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of the 2019 assassination of a Chechen exile in Berlin.
Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023 in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals and accused of trying to obtain military secrets.
He and his newspaper deny the charges and the US government has declared him as wrongfully detained.
“We are ready to solve it but there are certain conditions being discussed through special services channels. I think an agreement can be reached,” Putin said, emphasizing that Western powers would have to take what he called “reciprocal steps”.
“There have been many successful examples of these talks ending with success. Maybe this will end with success too but we have to agree,” Putin said.
Russia and the US have conducted high-profile prisoner swaps in the past – most recently in December 2022 when Moscow exchanged Brittney Griner, a US basketball star convicted of a drug offence in Russia, for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Putin Warns of ‘Provocation’ If US Supports Ukraine
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 a treaty with Poland, a treaty of friendship and cooperation. And we respect our obligations under this treaty,” Putin said.
“But if the US sends troops to Ukraine, what will you do?” Carlson said.
“That would be a provocation, a very serious one. And it would have very grave consequences for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Putin said.
Putin reiterated his claim that Ukraine was not a real country, but a project of the West.
He said that the people of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting the government since 2014, were “Russians” who wanted to reunite with Russia.
He also blamed the US for instigating the 2014 revolution that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and brought a pro-Western government to power in Kiev.
He said that the US was trying to use Ukraine as a “battering ram” against Russia and to weaken its position in Europe.
He said that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine, but reserved the right to defend its interests and security.
Putin Denies Involvement in Cyberattacks and Election Interference
Carlson confronted Putin with the allegations that Russia was behind a series of cyberattacks and election interference campaigns that targeted the US and other countries.
Putin denied any involvement and said that the US was the main source of cyber threats in the world.
He said that the US had launched cyberattacks against Iran, North Korea, and Russia itself, and that it had used its technological dominance to spy on its allies and enemies alike.
He said that the accusations against Russia were based on false evidence and political motives.
He challenged the US to provide proof of Russian hacking and to cooperate with Russia on cybersecurity issues.
He also dismissed the claims that Russia had interfered in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, saying that they were absurd and insulting.
He said that Russia had no preference for any candidate and that it respected the choice of the American people.
He said that the US was trying to blame Russia for its own domestic problems and to divert attention from its own failures.
Putin Defends His Human Rights Record and Criticizes the US
Carlson asked Putin about his human rights record and the treatment of his political opponents and critics.
Putin defended his actions and said that he was acting in accordance with the law and the constitution.
He said that he was not afraid of any opposition and that he welcomed constructive criticism and dialogue.
He said that he was not responsible for the poisoning and imprisonment of his most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, who is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for violating parole.
He said that Navalny was a “foreign agent” who had violated the law and that he had received adequate medical care.
Putin also said that he was not involved in the murder of other dissidents and journalists, such as Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, and Jamal Khashoggi.
He said that the US had no moral authority to lecture him on human rights and democracy, given its own record of violence, racism, and injustice.
He cited the examples of the Capitol riot, the Black Lives Matter protests, the Guantanamo Bay prison, and the drone strikes that killed civilians.
He said that the US was hypocritical and arrogant and that it should respect the sovereignty and diversity of other countries.