Tucker Carlson Interview: Some Historians Say Putin's Range of Claims Are 'Nonsense'

Regardless of their historical reality, none of Putin's claims can constitute a legal basis for his invasion

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Putin began the interview by claiming that 862 was the year "the foundation of the Russian state", Photo: Reuters
Putin began the interview by claiming that 862 was the year "the foundation of the Russian state", Photo: Reuters

American TV host Tucker Carlson's interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin began with a half-hour blurb on the history of Russia and Ukraine.

Carlson, who often seemed confused, listened as Putin expounded at length on the 9th-century origins of Russian statehood, Ukraine as an artificial creation, and Poland's collaboration with Hitler.

It was familiar ground for Putin, who in 2021 wrote a famous 5.000-word essay titled "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians," which anticipated the Kremlin's intellectual justification for invading Ukraine less than a year later.

Historians say a number of Putin's claims are "nonsense" and amount to nothing more than a selective misuse of history to justify the ongoing war with Ukraine.

Regardless of their historical reality, none of Putin's claims can constitute a legal basis for his invasion.

Narrative about statehood

Putin began the interview by claiming that 862 was the year "the foundation of the Russian state".

It was the year when Rurik, a Scandinavian prince, was invited to rule over the city of Novgorod, the capital of the Rus nation - which would eventually develop into today's Rus.

Putin compares what he claims is an unbroken tradition of Russian statehood dating back to the 9th century with the modern "invention" of Ukraine - a country he claims was "created" only in the 20th century.

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But Sergei Radchenko, a historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says the president's claim is "absolutely false."

"Vladimir Putin is trying to construct a narrative backwards, claiming that Russia as a state began its development in the 9th century. You could equally say that Ukraine as a state began its development in the 9th century, using the identical type of evidence and documents.

"He is trying to use certain historical facts to construct a narrative around statehood that would favor Russia as opposed to any alternative agglomeration."

Ronald Suni, a professor from the University of Michigan, says that the Russian people were "a bunch of bandits, who burned down their own capital again and again."

He adds that Putin is repeating "an already elaborated mythology invented at various times in the past by Moscow emperors who connected the roots of their own lineage with Rurik."

"This mythology was established in Moscow to justify its imperial rule over Ukraine."

"Special ethnic group"

Putin told Tucker Carlson that in the 17th century, when Poland began to rule parts of present-day Ukraine, the idea was spread that the inhabitants of those areas "are not real Russians. Because they lived on the periphery, they were Ukrainians."

"Originally the word Ukrainian meant a person living on the edges of the country, along its margins."

But Anita Prazmovska, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, says that although national consciousness among Ukrainians was awakened later than among other Central European nations, Ukrainians existed during that period.

"Vladimir Putin uses the 20th century concept of a state based on the protection of a defined nation, as something rooted in the past. That's just not the case."

Suni says that while it may be true that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians "have the same origins...they have evolved into different peoples over time."

"Novorsia"

Putin claims that parts of southern and eastern Ukraine "have no historical ties to Ukraine."

Since they were seized from the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century by the Russian empress Catherine the Great, the Russian president claims that this means that these territories rightfully belong to Russia.

Putin later calls them using the 17th century term "Novorusia" - New Russia.

Sunny points out that the inhabitants of these territories at the time when they were conquered by Russia were neither Russians nor Ukrainians, but Ottomans, Tatars or Cossacks - Slavic peasants who fled to the border.

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But the claim that these territories in reality rightfully belong to Russia serves Putin's interests, because it is precisely these territories that Russia is trying to win from Ukraine during the now decade-long conflict with its neighbor.

The so-called Novorussia also includes Crimea - illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Novorussia also includes parts around Kherson, Mariupol and Bakhmut, which Putin declared to be parts of Russia in 2022.

"Artificial State"

Putin then claimed that "Ukraine is an artificial creation created by order of Joseph Stalin," claiming that Ukraine was created by the Soviet leadership in the 1920s and that it was given territory to which it had no historical right.

In a way, he is right, says Professor Radchenko.

Soviet leaders drew the borders of the Soviet republics "in much the same way that Western colonial powers drew borders in Africa - randomly."

"But that doesn't mean Ukrainians didn't exist."

More generally, Radchenko denies Putin's claims that Ukraine is not a real country because it was formed in its own modern form in the 20th century.

"Each country is a false country, in the sense that countries were created as a result of historical processes.

"Russia was created as a result of decisions made by Russian emperors, such as the colonization of Siberia, which came at a considerable cost to the local population.

"If Ukraine is a fake country, then so is Russia."

"Collaboration with Hitler"

Perhaps Putin's most inflammatory statement concerns Poland.

Putin claimed that Poland - which was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 - "collaborated with Hitler".

The Russian president told a reporter that by refusing to cede an area of ​​Poland called the Danzig Corridor to Hitler, Poland "went too far, leading Hitler to start World War II by attacking it."

For Professor Prazmovska, President Putin's interpretation of history is a misreading of historical records.

She says that while it is true that there were diplomatic contacts between Poland and the Nazis - the first agreement Hitler signed when he came to power was a mutual non-aggression pact with Poland in 1934 - Putin equates diplomatic relations with a threatening neighbor with collaboration.

"The accusation that the Poles were collaborators is nonsense," says Prazmovska.

"You can't interpret those things as collaboration with Nazi Germany, because quite coincidentally at the same time the Soviet Union also signed agreements with Germany."

In September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland under the terms of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact signed between the two countries earlier that year.


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