How Tucker Carlson went down the rabbit hole

How Tucker Carlson went down the rabbit hole

A look at three pivotal events that affect the Russia/Ukraine war

In 2018, Tucker Carlson speaks at a Turning Point USA meeting in Florida.  (Gage Skidmore)
In 2018, Tucker Carlson speaks at a Turning Point USA meeting in Florida. (Gage Skidmore)

As the situation in Ukraine gets worse, our analyst, Alexander Smukler of Montclair, looks back at recent history, and with the insight that time and distance give, links a mistake made 30 years ago to the bloody disaster that’s going on today.

There are three events — one happened 30 years ago, and the other two within the last few weeks — that are vitally important to understanding what’s going on in Ukraine and Russia, he said.

Mr. Smukler, who was born in Moscow and spent the first 30 years of his life in the Soviet Union, leaving it with his family in 1991, just months before it collapsed, has a wealth of connections and knowledge that provide him with unusual insight into both Russia and Ukraine.

Unlike Vladimir Putin in his interview with Tucker Carlson — the third event, which we will get to in due time — we will not go back 2,000 years, into murky ethnic mytho-history. Instead, we’ll think about January 1994, when Ukraine, represented by its president, Leonid Kravchuk; Russia, represented by President Boris Yeltsin, and the United States, represented by Bill Clinton, signed the so-called Trilateral Statement.

“That is the absolute historic moment when Clinton convinced Kravchuk, almost exactly 30 years ago, to remove all the Ukrainian nuclear missiles and weaponry from Ukraine, making it a non-nuclear state,” Mr. Smukler said.

“The three of them agreed that Russia and the United States would provide a guarantee for the security of the Ukrainian state, in the borders approved in 1991. And during the next 10 or so years they removed and destroyed the stockpiles of nuclear weapons and warheads. They created a precedent — it was the first time in human history that a state voluntarily dismantled its nuclear shield.”

Those stockpiles were “left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Mr. Smukler explained. Four former Soviet republics — Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan — had those leftover weapons; Ukraine was the first to destroy them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is at a concert at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow in 2022. (Getty Images)

“In a recent interview, President Clinton said that he very much regrets that decision. He even said that it probably was one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes he made.

“Thinking of the connections between the different dots of modern history in the global game of thrones, we have to understand that the events that started 30 years ago left the Ukrainians absolutely defenseless. The world probably would never have gotten involved in this brutal conflict in Europe if the United States hadn’t brokered that agreement.”

The United States hasn’t been as wholehearted as it could be in its protection of Ukraine, and of course Russia actively invaded and seeks to occupy it. So the agreement, which undoubtedly was hard to enforce, has provided no protection to a voluntarily under-protected country. “We have spent billions and billions of dollars to defend Ukraine, because back then the administration made a mistake,” Mr. Smukler said. Don’t get him wrong, he added. “Bill Clinton was my hero. But because of this decision, we left Ukraine defenseless, and right now it is bleeding, because Congress is completely paralyzed, and is refusing to approve another package of financial and military help.

“If the help is not restored, Ukraine is going to lose the war. That is becoming obvious.”

The next event, which reveals a great deal about Ukrainian leaders’ thinking, happened about two weeks ago. It’s when Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, replaced the country’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, with Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky. That change “will have a major impact on the front lines and the situation in Ukraine,” Mr. Smukler said.

“There are absolutely zillions of comments and explanation for this change, starting with the conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny,” Mr. Smukler said. “I don’t want to repeat them — they’re easy to find and read.

“My personal analysis is that Zelensky had no choice but to replace Zaluzhny with Syrsky because those two generals represent two strategies. In his famous article in the Economist and a short interview on CNN, Zaluzhny made his position very clear. Every expert read between the lines that Zaluzhny does not believe that the Ukrainian army today has the capacity for strategic offensive operations to liberate the occupied territories and bring the Ukraine state into the 1991 borders. From my reading between the lines and my sources, I think that he was basically offering to build a Maginot line and freeze the conflict. (The Maginot line was built in France in the 1930s as a way to keep the Germans out; it was impregnable but not long enough, so in the end it was monstrously expensive but didn’t work.)

Alexander Smukler and his wife, Alla Straks, flank President Bill Clinton.

“Basically, Zaluzhny was close to offering a Korean model with a demilitarized zone, freeze the conflict, and concentrate only on defense.

“Ukraine’s political leadership and Zelensky do not accept that, for several reasons. President Zelensky has a much wider picture in front of him, and understands deeply that if the conflict is frozen and the Ukrainian army creates a defense line that could be broken at any time, the country will be living with enormous risk. And who will sponsor Ukraine after the conflict is frozen?

“Zelensky still does not have assurances or guarantees from the organized West that Ukraine can join NATO, and it has no assurances or guarantees that it can join the European Union. It has no pledge from any country, including the United States, that anybody will sponsor or financially support Ukraine and help rebuild its infrastructure after the conflict is frozen. So Zelensky does not adopt the idea that the conflict should be frozen.

“He’s choosing a different path instead. I don’t know if it’s a mistake or a wise decision, but he is continuing to fight.

“He wants to combine a few different tasks. He knows he has to create a defensive line, now that he has no capacity for offensive operations because of the enormous deficit of antiaircraft missiles, artillery shells, tanks, drones, and other weaponry. And there is also the most important deficit — manpower.” The Ukrainian army is running out of soldiers; Russia has a nearly endless supply of cannon fodder, and a leader who does not care what happens to them.

“Zelensky is preparing his country and his army for a new kind of war,” Mr. Smukler continued. “Guerrilla war. He does not exclude the idea that one day the Russians will be able to break the Ukrainian defensive line, and start moving to Kharkov, Nikolaev, Odesa, and then Kyiv. So he’s choosing a new commander in chief who can prepare the army, in this worst-case scenario, if the Russians go deep into Ukraine, to conduct a guerrilla war.

“That’s why he chose Syrsky. He thinks Syrsky will be able to create and prepare the infrastructure in Ukraine for guerrilla war, and that he will change the character of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“Because Zelensky is not receiving help from the organized West, he needs a commander in chief who agrees to fight to the end. Who agrees to increase the defense opportunities while at the same time knowing that there is a Plan B and even a Plan C.

“Guerrilla war doesn’t mean only that the Ukrainians will fight from the woods if the Russians penetrate deeply into Ukrainian territory. It also means that they will not stop hitting infrastructure inside Russia. Zaluzhny always was against hitting Russian infrastructure. He always took the position that we cannot extend the conflict to Russian territories. We have to liberate our territory. And that was despite the fact the Ukrainian intelligence already made major attacks on Russian infrastructure deep inside Russian territory, including the bridge to Crimea. But that wasn’t a strategy; it was an operation prepared by intelligence.

“So by changing the commander, Zelensky is choosing a different path for the war. He understands fully that if Congress does not adopt the package supporting Ukraine, which would send it $60 billion, and even if it does, in eight or so months Ukraine will need another $60 billion, and it’s possible that in a year there will be a new administration that will not be at all favorable to Ukraine. So Zelensky has to plan what to do.

“He is facing a dilemma. Should he start negotiations with Putin?”

That brings us to our third event — former Fox star Tucker Carlson.

“Carlson has jumped into a rabbit hole,” Mr. Smukler said. “He saw a façade of the new, extremely militarized Russian empire. He saw downtown Moscow — they showed him a typical Potemkin village.” (Ironically, the original Potemkin village, the façade that Prince Grigory Potemkin put up to impress his lover, the Empress Catherine the Great ”— who, like Peter the Great, is one of Putin’s role models — was in Crimea.)

Carlson went to Moscow to interview Putin; despite his saying that no American journalists would undertake such a feat, the truth is that American journalists trying to work in Russia end up like Evan Gershkovich, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter from Princeton who’s been in a Russian prison for almost a year on charges widely accepted to have been made up. He’s seen as a high-level pawn, to be exchanged for someone not yet determined, and relegated to languishing in captivity until then.)

General Valery Zaluzhny

“Putin told Carlson that Russia is open to negotiations,” Mr. Smukler said. “He basically used Carlson to send a message to the world. If you read between the lines, you clearly see that he’s saying that Russia is ready to negotiate and stop the conflict, but Russia would be negotiating about the capitulation of Ukraine.

“Putin’s position in negotiations would be extremely strong. The Ukrainians missed the chance to negotiate with him back in September 2022, when they were in a very strong position. But they missed their chance, and now their position is weak. The Russians will dictate what they want. Nobody knows exactly what that is, but we easily can predict that aside from the territories they have as a result of Anschluss, they will request that the organized West lift all kinds of sanctions — which is probably not possible at that point anyway.

“Putin is saying that if you are not going to negotiate with us, we will continue the war for as long as we want to, to exhaust the Ukrainians and its western allies.”

Russia’s doing terrifyingly well at increasing its military production, Mr. Smukler said, and the “dark powers” — North Korea and Iran — “with the support of China, are able to supply Russia’s front lines with enormous amounts of weaponry.” Meanwhile, the organized West seems to have promised more than it is able — or willing — to deliver.

“So because Putin is in such a favorable position now, by offering negotiations to Tucker he can enjoy his position. He fully understands that time is on his side. He is dictating the conditions of peace, through Tucker — and that is totally not acceptable to Zelensky.”

There’s something else that he saw in the Putin/Carlson interview and the reactions to it that surprised and appalled him, Mr. Smukler said. “You saw, in the official state-controlled channels and in the propaganda channels, something that really shocked me. It was that Russian society today is drunk on the smell of blood.

“That’s a Russian saying, being drunk on the smell of blood,” he explained; it seems to be more or less bloodlust, but it’s stronger and even uglier. “It’s like when Hamas penetrated into Israel,” he said. “When they started to rape and mutilate and torture and murder, they became drunk on the smell of blood.

General Oleksandr Syrsky

“That’s what shocked me about Russian media coverage,” he continued. “They have been discussing the interview as a huge event in internal policy.

“The interview was two hours long. Putin told Tucker the story of Russian history, going back 2,000 years, with absolutely no relevance to the situation today.

“But after I read about the reaction to the talk, I realized that the bloodlust was happening. I also call it a collective orgasm.

“Inside Russia, especially the part of Russia that supports the war, people already feel such energy. The propaganda infuses it into them. They almost had a collective orgasm about killing Ukrainians on the front line, and f***ing the organized West.

“I never use the f-word,” Mr. Smukler said. “But this time I had to.

“Tucker Carlson is an instrument in Putin’s propaganda,” he continued. “He is a useful fool.”

As for Carlson’s highly edited view of Moscow — “he dives into rabbit holes, and he believes the virtual reality of modern Moscow. He didn’t have to travel a thousand miles.

“He could have stayed at home and used the new Apple glasses,” Mr. Smukler concluded.

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