Putin uses Tucker Carlson interview to take shots at Zelenskyy over Yaroslav Hunka affair

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with U.S. media personality Tucker Carlson in an interview conducted in Moscow on Tuesday and released on his Tucker Carlson Network website Thursday evening.  (Tucker Carlson Network/Reuters - image credit)
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with U.S. media personality Tucker Carlson in an interview conducted in Moscow on Tuesday and released on his Tucker Carlson Network website Thursday evening. (Tucker Carlson Network/Reuters - image credit)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin used an interview with U.S. media personality Tucker Carlson to take a shot at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for joining in a standing ovation for a veteran of a Second World War Nazi unit during his visit to Canada.

Zelenskyy gave an address to Parliament during the September visit. He was introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and thanked by then-Speaker of the House Anthony Rota.

During his remarks, Rota recognized a man from his riding, Yaroslav Hunka, and praised the Ukrainian Canadian for fighting the Russians during the Second World War. Zelenskyy, Trudeau and the rest of the House rose to applaud Hunka.

Media reports later revealed that Hunka fought with the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, also known as the SS 14th Waffen Division and sometimes the First Ukrainian Division. The unit was made up of Ukrainian volunteers from Galicia and was under Nazi command.

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press
Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

"The president of Ukraine stood up with the entire Parliament of Canada and applauded this man. How can this be imagined?" Putin told Carlson through a translator. Carlson posted the interview on X, formerly Twitter.

While historians say men joined the unit for a variety of reasons — including a desire to fight for Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union — the incident was a major diplomatic embarrassment for Canada.

Putin has repeatedly claimed he is waging war on Ukraine in order to "de-Nazify" the country and has jumped on the Hunka affair to justify his argument in the past.

Western allies, including Canada, have consistently pushed back against those claims, calling Russia's full-scale invasion a blatant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty.

During the interview, Putin suggested that the Hunka affair is "being silenced in Western countries," despite extensive media coverage of the incident last fall.

The Russian president has greatly limited his contact with international media since he launched the full-scale war in Ukraine in February 2022.

Western journalists were invited to Putin's annual press conference in December — the first since the war began — but only two were given the chance to ask a question.

Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Carlson was chosen for the interview because "he has a position which differs" from other English-language media.

Before his exit from Fox News, Carlson repeatedly questioned the validity of U.S. support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion and speculated about why Americans are told to hate Putin so much. His commentaries were frequently circulated on Russian state-run media.

Tucker Carlson Network/Reuters
Tucker Carlson Network/Reuters

Carlson's trip comes as he aligns himself with former U.S. president Donald Trump in a growing split in the Republican party over Putin and the Ukraine war. Trump has pushed to cut off aid to Ukraine, and the GOP majority controlling the House of Representatives has so far complied.

The U.S. has sent Ukraine more than $110 billion US in aid since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Putin's stance on wider war in Europe

Putin, speaking in Russian with his words dubbed into English, made lengthy remarks about Russia's relations with Ukraine, Poland and other countries during the interview, which was more than two hours long.

He said he had no interest in expanding its war in Ukraine to other countries such as Poland and Latvia.

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, who will be seeking a fifth term as president in this year's election, 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 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.

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"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 … 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 has made clear it has no interest in talking on Putin's terms.

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U.S. journalist's release possible

Putin told Carlson that it might be possible to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is awaiting trial on spying charges, in exchange for a Russian prisoner.

He said Russian and American special services were discussing the case and had made some progress.

The Russian president suggested that in return, Moscow wanted Germany to free Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of the 2019 murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin.

Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and accused of trying to obtain defence secrets. He and his newspaper strongly reject the charges and the U.S. government has designated him as wrongfully detained.

Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters
Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

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.

Putin, without mentioning Krasikov by name, referred to a person who "due to patriotic sentiments, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals."

Last month a Moscow court extended Gershkovich's custody by two months. Putin said the reporter had been "caught red handed when he was secretly getting confidential information."

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