Putin tells Tucker Carlson deal can be reached to free jailed US reporter Evan Gershkovich

President Vladimir Putin has said he believes a deal can be reached to free Evan Gershkovich, a US reporter detained last year in Russia.

Speaking with US host Tucker Carlson, Mr Putin said talks were ongoing with the US about the journalist, who is being held on espionage charges.

In the interview, Mr Putin held forth on Ukraine, US presidents and the CIA.

It’s the first time the Russian leader has sat down with a Western journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

The exclusive has thrust Mr Carlson and his fledgling media company back into the spotlight following the firebrand conservative presenter’s abrupt departure from Fox News last year.

Mr Putin said he believed a deal could be struck to release Mr Gershkovich, 32, “if our partners take reciprocal steps”.

“The special services are in contact with one another. They are talking… I believe an agreement can be reached.”

Mr Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 1,600km (1,000 miles) east of Moscow, on 29 March last year.

In January, Russia again extended his pre-trial detention until the end of March. He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Mr Carlson asked Mr Putin if he would be willing to release the reporter immediately and said: “We’ll bring him back to the United States.”

But the Russian president insisted that Mr Gershkovich, who has not yet been tried, had received classified information, and hinted as to who Russia would accept in a prisoner exchange.

Mr Putin mentioned “a person, due to patriotic sentiments, [who] eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals… during the events in the Caucasus”.

It was almost certainly a reference to Vadim Krasikov, an FSB assassin currently in prison in Germany after shooting dead a Georgian military officer, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019.

The interview, more than two hours long, was filmed in Moscow on Tuesday.

It began with a question about Mr Putin’s reason for ordering the invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

“Tell us why you believe the United States might strike Russia out of the blue,” Mr Carlson asked. “How did you conclude that?”

“It’s not that America, the United States, was going to launch a surprise strike on Russia,” Mr Putin said through a translator. “I didn’t say that. Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?”

Mr Putin then spoke at length – more than half an hour – about the history of Eastern Europe, beginning with the establishment of the Russian state in the 9th Century.

Mr Putin repeated his various justifications for the invasion, including well-worn falsehoods about the history of Ukraine, his historical grievances about the break-up of the Soviet Union and Nato expansion, and his claim that Ukraine is riddled with neo-Nazis.

He also talked at length about the start of the invasion, repeating false claims that Russia had not attacked Ukraine. Moscow, according to Mr Putin, was just responding to threats to its national security.

Mr Carlson did not ask about alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha or elsewhere, the forced removal of Ukrainian children to Russia which resulted in an International Criminal Court arrest warrant being issued for Mr Putin, the deaths of political rivals or the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Mr Putin, for his part, insisted that Russia had no interest in invading Poland, Latvia or other Nato countries, calling such a scenario “absolutely out of the question”.

The Russian leader also discussed his relationship with American presidents, repeating a story he has previously mentioned about Bill Clinton suggesting that Russia could join Nato, only to withdraw the option shortly afterwards.

He said he had enjoyed a “very good relationship” with George W Bush.

“He was no worse than any other American or Russian or European politician,” Mr Putin said. “I assure you he understood what he was doing as well as others. I had such a personal relationship with Trump as well.”

Mr Putin said he did not recall the last time he had spoken to President Joe Biden.

Before the interview, Mr Carlson said “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview” Mr Putin since 2022.

Countless reporters from Western countries, including the BBC’s Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg, have sent the Kremlin repeated interview requests. All of the BBC’s requests have been ignored.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged this, telling the BBC: “Mr Carlson is not correct, and he couldn’t have known that. We receive a lot of requests for interviews with the president.”

Russian state media spent several days covering Mr Carlson’s visit, broadcasting footage of his various trips to restaurants and a visit to see the Spartacus ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Mr Carlson was the highest-rated primetime host on Fox News until he was taken off air in April 2023, for reasons the channel has never made clear.

He started his own media company and found an outlet on X, formerly Twitter.

Content on the Tucker Carlson Network consists mostly of friendly interviews with right-wing politicians – including a chat with Donald Trump timed to coincide with a Republican presidential debate – and other figures such as Andrew Tate and Russell Brand.

Source: BBC

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