When it comes to countries where elections are rigged by the “deep state” and there’s massive election fraud, Russia stands out. But that apparently escaped the notice of former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who this week became the first American to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin since the February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Carlson didn’t voice concern that Russia for the first time is using a new online electronic voting system in March’s elections. But as Cole J. Harvey of Oklahoma State University, an expert in authoritarian states’ electoral manipulation, told The Washington Post, online voting could be “a game changer” for Putin, enabling the regime “to shift away from costly, uncertain vote-buying and voter pressure, to cheap, efficient falsification.”
The Kremlin is also desperate to avoid a large anti-war protest vote that might embarrass Putin, who’s seeking a fifth term that would keep him in power until 2030. The March elections come at a time when Russians are upset over the massive casualties in Ukraine and their growing economic woes. Amidst this discord, the last remaining anti-war candidate was barred from running against Putin.
With the Supreme Court set to hear opening arguments in the Colorado decision to bar Donald Trump from the ballot just a few days later, it seemed inevitable that Carlson would ask Putin about his country banning candidates.
But did he? Nyet.
RELATED STORY: Tucker Carlson interviewed Putin, and boy, did that go off the rails fast
While Carlson was visiting Moscow, Russia’s Central Election Commission was deciding which candidates should appear on the presidential ballot.
Russia already had a law on the books banning people affiliated with “extremist” organizations from the presidency, which covered imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Along with Putin, the commission allowed three non-threatening candidates to run—all of them members of small political parties that basically support Kremlin policies. And as parliament members, they were not required to collect any signatures to get on the ballot.
But on Thursday, the CEC barred the only pro-peace candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, from challenging Putin.
The 60-year-old physicist, former parliament member, and moderate opposition politician was running on an election manifesto that began with the words “I’m entering the elections as a principled opponent of Putin’s policies.” Nadezhdin also asserted that Putin is dragging Russia “into the past” and that he “made a fatal mistake” when he went to war in Ukraine.
Nadezhdin needed 100,000 signatures of endorsement from voters across Russia to qualify for the ballot. His team reported gathering around 200,000 signatures. But under Russian law he could only submit 105,000 signatures to the CEC, which he did on Jan. 31. At Thursday’s hearing, the commission asserted 9,147 invalid signatures, leaving only 95,587 valid signatures.
Unsurprisingly, Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov defended the CEC’s disqualification of Nadezhdin.
Putin has never faced a serious threat to his rule since he came to power in 1999. He won 53% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, and most recently, 77% in 2018. Yet according to Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet now based in Latvia, the Kremlin wants Putin to win more than 80% of votes this year—more than any candidate in Russian history.
Exiled Russian political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann told the BBC that Nadezhdin was initially ignored as an uncharismatic and harmless candidate. But then the Kremlin was caught off guard last month when thousands of Russians stood in long lines in freezing temperatures to sign Nadezhdin’s petitions.
Even still, he was really only a threat to Putin’s “80%” ego trip. Meduza, citing Kremlin sources, said the situation took on a “new urgency” when independent polls showed that Nadezhdin could get 10% or more of the vote in the election, “potentially depriving the incumbent president of the overwhelming majority he’s aiming for.”
Nadezhdin, in a statement on Telegram, said he would appeal the CEC’s decision to Russia’s Supreme Court.
But don’t expect Russia’s Supreme Court to consider any complex constitutional issues in quickly disposing of the case. Stanislav Andreychuk, a board member of the banned independent election watchdog group Golos, told The Moscow Times, which operates out of Amsterdam, that Nadezhdin's appeal stands “almost no chance” before the Supreme Court. And a source close to the Kremlin told Meduza that it was “impossible” for Nadezhdin to be placed on the ballot.
“With everything that’s being said officially, most of all by the president, that society has rallied together to work toward victory. And this could suddenly give the impression that a sizable share of the population is eager for the special military operation to end,” the source explained.
The source admits that since Nadezhdin’s campaign began, it’s “gone from being a niche story to being a massive one” — and that the Kremlin underestimated the number of Russians willing to “actively speak out” against the war (even in such an indirect way).
The ruling just happened to come on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Donald Trump’s appeal to remain on the presidential ballot in Colorado. The landmark case will decide whether Trump can be disqualified under the 14th Amendment, which bars former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again. Legal experts said the justices didn’t seem likely to disqualify Trump from the ballot, but instead were looking to find some kind of “off-ramp” to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision.
Carlson has made lots of bogus claims about massive fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, even though he was privately skeptical about some of them. And in a video clip posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, called it “lunacy” when the Colorado Supreme Court decided in December that Donald Trump should be barred from the state’s 2024 presidential ballot for inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. He remarked: “None of this seems very American. All of it looks like the actual end of democracy.”
But should anyone be surprised that there was absolutely no mention of Russian’s presidential election in Carlson’s 2-hour-plus interview with Putin? He certainly failed to ask about other important topics.
The Washington Post wrote:
He did not ask a single question about Russia’s attacks on civilian areas or critical infrastructure in Ukraine, which have killed thousands. There was no mention of the war crime allegations facing the Russian leader or the forced deportation of Ukrainian children. Absent, too, were questions on Russia’s sweeping political crackdowns on Putin’s critics or the long jail sentences meted out to ordinary Russians staging antiwar protests.
How did Carlson look while getting steamrolled by Putin? Same as ever.
Hillary Clinton nailed it when she said in an MSNBC interview on Wednesday that Carlson is “a useful idiot” who’s “like a puppy dog” for Putin.
Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner also nailed it.
Overall, Carlson came off as a stooge, staring open-mouthed for hours as Putin either ignored his few questions or openly sneered at him. Putin came off, appropriately enough, as a self-important fascist jackass who was willing to justify anything with an hour's worth of “Drunk History.” In terms of providing some reasonable defense of Russia, or something for the right to leverage against aid to Ukraine, Carlson came up bone-dry.
Nadezhdin finds himself being targeted in a vicious TV smear campaign. Putin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov warned that Nadezhdin risked being poisoned or imprisoned like other prominent Putin opponents.
"The fate of Navalny and (Vladimir) Kara-Murza awaits him," said Solovyov. "No one will care—he's in prison, so be it. Is Borya doomed to spend his older years in prison?!"
Nadezhdin remains steadfast: “Participating in the 2024 presidential election is the most important political decision of my life,” he wrote on Telegram. “I will not pull back from my intentions.”