Putin’s invasion of Ukraine pitted Russia against most of the world, leaving Kremlin propagandists yearning for any tidbits of pro-Russian sentiment in the United States. These days, state television draws on a bounty of translated quotes almost exclusively from two Western voices: Tucker Carlson of Fox News and former U.S. President Donald J. Trump. They have a plan to reward them both: Carlson with a highly coveted interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump with a freebie PR campaign designed to light his path back to the White House.
Last Thursday, Russia’s Defense Ministry released a colorful diagram, purporting to demonstrate that President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, is secretly bankrolling the Pentagon’s biolabs in Ukraine, allegedly developing biological weapons to target Russia. The allegation was preposterous and was squeamishly avoided by the responsible mainstream media, but Tucker Carlson immediately latched on to it. Talking about the accusation later the same day, Carlson did his best to pre-empt any doubts about his motivation. He said: “What are the outlines of that story? We’re not sure. We know it’s legitimate to ask what it means, why wouldn’t it be? You’re not a Russian agent repeating discredited Putin talking points if you ask. You’re a good citizen.”
Carlson’s disclaimers notwithstanding, Kremlin propagandists see the Hunter biolab material as just the right kind of toxic waste that can bury his father’s chances of re-election in 2024. On Sunday, Russian state TV host Vladimir Soloviev opened his program, Soloviev Live, with a clip of Tucker Carlson’s show from March 16. In the clip showcased by Russian propagandists, Carlson was berating Florida Congresswoman Maria Salazar for not forcing Ukraine to concede to Russia’s “peace deal,” which in essence demands nothing less than total capitulation. Carlson said, in part: “I’m just asking you: Has it occurred that many lives might be saved if we were to encourage the peaceful solution that’s already on the table? Are you doing anything in that direction?”
Soloviev’s spectacle proceeded to showcase Russian strikes on the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, coinciding with Biden’s visit to Warsaw about 45 miles away over the border in Poland. The state TV propagandist, who often boasts of his close ties with the Kremlin, asserted that Russia bombed that particular city to send a direct message to Biden. Soloviev added that “cruise missiles hitting Lviv” were “the perfect response to Biden’s speech.” While the pro-Kremlin mouthpieces are seething with anger against the current U.S. president, they are still rooting for the return of his predecessor.
Virtually connecting to the studio for his weekly appearance on the show was Dimitri Simes, who heads the Center for the National Interest. The Mueller report documented extensive interactions between Simes and his organization with top Trump campaign officials. The Center for the National Interest hosted candidate Trump’s first foreign-policy speech in 2016, attended by Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In 2015, the center arranged meetings with U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve officials for convicted Russian agent Maria Butina and then-Russian Central Bank Deputy Governor Alexander Torshin.
Soloviev gushed about Simes: “I cherish his friendship.” Simes reciprocated: “For me, it’s always a great honor and great pleasure to appear on your program.” During their discussion, Soloviev brought up the biolab conspiracy theory and its potential impact on the presidential election in 2024. He said: “Russia served up a beneficial deck of cards for Trump, because the documents discovered in Ukraine, plus the evidence uncovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop, demonstrate the participation of Hunter Biden’s company in biological programs in Ukraine. A number of English-speaking media outlets have already picked it up, and of course, China clutched onto it. Can Trump’s people use this as a line of attack against Biden and his family?”
Simes mused: “Not only can they do that, but they are already doing it. But this will be very difficult to accomplish, because the mainstream American media, perhaps with the exception of Fox News... mainly support Biden and not Trump. They’re constantly attempting to present any information that could harm Biden as some sort of underhanded intrigue, which somehow involves Russia and Vladimir Putin. There is now a new terminology in American journalism, which didn’t used to exist. They don’t say ‘Russia’s attack against Ukraine,’ or even ‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.’ It’s also not enough to describe it as ‘Russia’s aggression.’ That is now insufficient. They have to add ‘baseless and absolutely unprovoked.’ When Trump says something, they describe it as ‘Trump falsely claimed.’ When Tucker Carlson starts to say something—the leading commentator of Fox News—they immediately say that Tucker Carlson is speaking at the suggestion of Putin, that he is getting his writeups from Moscow.”
Soloviev surmised: “Dimitri Konstantinovich [Simes] pointed out that you can’t hear this point of view anywhere—even on Fox News—with the sole exception of Tucker Carlson.”
Back in 2021, during his TV show The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, the host pined for the return of his favorite American president: “Things were so good under Trump... Listen to Trumpushka.” After playing a clip of Trump’s interview with Sean Hannity, wherein the former president dismissed the idea of helping Ukraine fight off Russian aggression, Soloviev sighed: “[He is] so sorely missed.” Between the war in Ukraine, which is likely to become a prolonged struggle, and the crushing U.S. sanctions, only one candidate shows the promise of potentially erasing the consequences of Russian aggression and dramatically limiting America’s support for Ukraine. Clutching to these prospects, the Kremlin’s mouthpieces are openly signaling Russia’s intent to involve themselves in yet another U.S. election.