President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has worked for decades to win allies in the West, using his spy agencies to interfere in elections and deploying diplomats to build links with Kremlin-friendly politicians.
On Thursday, the world witnessed a new, verbose chapter in those efforts: Mr. Putin’s two-hour interview, taped in a gilded hall at the Kremlin, with one of America’s most prominent and most divisive conservative commentators.
Speaking to Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, Mr. Putin called on the United States to “make an agreement” to cede Ukrainian territory to Russia in order to end the war. He sought to appeal directly to American conservatives just as Republican lawmakers are holding up aid to Ukraine on Capitol Hill, echoing the talking points of politicians like former President Donald J. Trump who say that the United States has more pressing priorities than a war thousands of miles away.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Mr. Putin said in response to Mr. Carlson’s question about the possibility of American soldiers fighting in Ukraine. “You have issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt.”
He went on: “Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia?”
Much of the interview constituted a familiar Kremlin history lesson about Russia’s historical claim to Eastern European lands, beginning in the ninth century, that Mr. Putin made little effort to distill for American ears. He opined on artificial intelligence, Genghis Khan and the Roman Empire. He also laid out his well-worn and spurious justifications for invading Ukraine, asserting that Russia’s goal was to “stop this war” that he claims the West is waging against Russia.
But Mr. Putin was more direct than usual about how he sees his Ukraine invasion ending: not with a military victory, but through an agreement with the West. At the interview’s end, Mr. Putin told Mr. Carlson that the time had come for talks about ending the war because “those who are in power in the West have come to realize” that Russia will not be defeated on the battlefield.
“If so, if the realization has set in, they have to think what to do next. We are ready for this dialogue,” Mr. Putin said.
Responding to Mr. Carlson’s question about whether NATO could accept Russian control over parts of Ukraine, Mr. Putin said: “Let them think how to do it with dignity. There are options if there is a will.”
The original, Russian version of Mr. Putin’s comments was not immediately released, leaving viewers to rely on the dubbed translation in Mr. Carlson’s broadcast.
The interview, conducted on Tuesday, was Mr. Putin’s first with a Western media outlet since the start of his full-scale war in Ukraine and his first with an American one since 2021. While Mr. Putin regularly gave interviews to mainstream American media in his first two decades in power, his spokesman said the Kremlin chose Mr. Carlson this time because those traditional outlets take “an exclusively one-sided position” with regard to Russia.
Mr. Putin held out an olive branch to the West, rather than resort to some of the fiery rhetoric he has employed before domestic audiences. Afforded a chance by Mr. Carlson to expand on his efforts to portray Russia as a defender of “traditional values” against what he often depicts as a degenerate and declining West, the Russian president was uncharacteristically restrained. “Western society is more pragmatic,” he said. “Russian people think more about the eternal, about moral values.”
He added that “there’s nothing wrong with” the Western path, noting that it had led to “good success in production, even in science.” It was an echo of Mr. Putin’s assertion over the last two years that his conflict is not with the West as a whole, but with a ruling elite seeking to preserve its global hegemony.
The interview’s release Thursday followed days of breathless anticipation in Russia’s state-run news media, which documented Mr. Carlson’s every step in Moscow — down to the double cheeseburgers he was said to have ordered at a former McDonald’s. The hoopla laid bare the Kremlin’s continued aspiration to appeal to Western audiences, despite Mr. Putin’s on-and-off threats to use nuclear weapons and Russia’s arrest last year of an American journalist, Evan Gershkovich.
Mr. Putin addressed both of those matters in the interview, apparently seeking to signal that Moscow and Washington can find common ground. He told Mr. Carlson that Russia had no interest in attacking countries on NATO’s eastern flank, contrary to the warnings of some Western officials.
“We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Mr. Putin said. “It’s just threat mongering.”
Mr. Carlson pressed Mr. Putin to release Mr. Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent that Russia arrested last year on espionage accusations that The Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Mr. Putin said “the dialogue continues” on his fate, hinting that the Kremlin was holding out for a favorable offer from the United States to release him as part of a prisoner swap.
Taken together, Mr. Putin’s appearance underscored his tactical confidence as his adversaries face a vulnerable moment: Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, further military aid is stalled in the U.S. Congress and Kremlin-friendly politicians are ascendant on both sides of the Atlantic. Chief among those politicians is Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner whom Mr. Carlson frequently praises but whom he did not ask about in the interview.
That confluence of circumstances means that the interview with Mr. Carlson comes as Mr. Putin senses his “finest hour,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.
Mr. Putin’s current goal, Ms. Stanovaya said, appears to be to secure a peace deal in Ukraine that would cement Russia’s control of the territory it has already captured and to install a friendly government in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. But to achieve it, Mr. Putin appears to believe that he needs the United States to put pressure on Ukraine to hold negotiations on ending the war, rather than to continue to resist Russia’s invasion.
“He believes that he now has a window of opportunity,” she said.
Indeed, Mr. Putin repeatedly predicted in the interview that the war would end through diplomacy, but that the United States first had to stop sending military aid to Ukraine and to convince Ukraine’s leaders to negotiate.
“You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to a negotiating table,” Mr. Putin said. Minutes later, he added: “This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems — sooner or later, it will result in an agreement.”
But it was far from clear whether the message would get through to American audiences. Instead, many viewers marveled at the length of Mr. Putin’s soliloquy on Russian history at the beginning of the interview — viewpoints already familiar from years of the president’s speeches and writings. Mr. Putin expounded on topics like the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the arrival of Christianity in Eastern Europe to try to justify his territorial claims in Ukraine.
“He didn’t say anything new,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York and the great-granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev. Russians are used to his history lessons, she went on, but American viewers “must be going nuts with all this historical verbosity.”
Neil MacFarquhar and Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting.