Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with U.S. television host Tucker Carlson in Moscow, Russia February 6, 2024. Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that aired on Thursday that Russia will fight for its interests "to the end" but has no interest in expanding its war in Ukraine to other countries such as Poland and Latvia.
In his first interview with an American journalist since before Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, Putin said Western leaders had come to realize it was impossible inflict a strategic defeat on Russia and were wondering what to do next.
"We are ready for this dialogue," he said.
Putin also said he believed it was possible to reach an agreement to free U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, who has been detained in Russia for nearly a year and is awaiting trial on spying charges.
Putin made the comments in a more than two-hour interview with conservative talk-show host Tucker Carlson that was conducted in Moscow on Tuesday and aired on tuckercarlson.com.
Asked if he could imagine a scenario in which he would send Russian troops to Poland, a NATO member, Putin replied:
"Only in one case, if Poland attacks Russia. Why? Because we have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. Why would we do that? We simply don't have any interest."
Putin spoke in Russian and his remarks were dubbed into English. He began with lengthy remarks about Russia's relations with Ukraine, Poland and other countries.
Putin devoted a substantial part of the interview to complaining that Ukraine had been on the verge of agreeing a deal to end hostilities at talks in Istanbul in April 2022, but backed away, he said, once Russian troops withdrew from near Kyiv.
"Well now let them think how to reverse the situation," he said. "We're not against it. It would be funny if it were not so sad that. This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems, sooner or later it will result in an agreement."
The Russian leader said the U.S. had pressing domestic issues to worry about. "Wouldn't it be better to negotiate with Russia? Make an agreement. Already understanding the situation that is developing today, realizing that Russia will fight for its interests to the end," Putin said.
Washington, which has sent Ukraine more than $110 billion in aid since Russia invaded in February 2022, has made clear it has no interest in talking on Putin's terms
Putin was last formally interviewed by a U.S. media outlet in October 2021, when CNBC's Hadley Gamble spoke to him.
The Carlson interview came as U.S. lawmakers debate whether to provide more money for Ukraine's war effort. It also aired the same day as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy replaced the popular army chief with his ground forces commander.
A procedural vote in the U.S. Senate helped advance a bill that includes $61 billion in new funds for Ukraine, but it faces uncertainty in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives where dozens of members, particularly those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, have voted against Ukraine aid.
PROGRESS IN JOURNALIST'S CASE
Putin said Russian and American special services were discussing the Gershkovich case and had made some progress.
Putin suggested that in return, Moscow wanted Germany to free Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of the 2019 murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin, although he did not mention Krasikov by name.
"There have been many successful examples of these talks crowned with success," Putin said. "Probably this is going to be crowned with success as well but we have to come to an agreement."
Russia and the United States have agreed high-profile prisoner swaps in the past - most recently in December 2022 when Moscow traded Brittney Griner, a U.S. basketball star convicted of a drugs offence in Russia - for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
The Kremlin said Putin agreed to the Carlson interview because the approach of the former Fox News host differed from the "one-sided" reporting of the Ukraine conflict by many Western news outlets.
Carlson is considered to have close connections to Trump, who is expected to be the Republican Party candidate in the November U.S. presidential election.
Complaining about the billions of dollars in aid sent to Kyiv so far, Trump has called for de-escalation of the war in Ukraine, in which the Biden administration has strongly backed the Zelenskiy government.
For his part, Carlson has said much Western media coverage of the war is biased in Kyiv's favor.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom, David Ljunggren and Ron Popeski