Russian media outlets have promoted comments made by former President Donald Trump, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and other right-wing actors to bolster pro-Kremlin propaganda amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia labeled the invasion a “special military operation” but it is globally seen as a “full scale invasion,” and a “war of aggression” following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unlawful recognition of the Russian-backed separatist entities of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LNR).
From February 16 to February 22, Media Matters found several statements from right-wing U.S. actors that Russian media had used to support pro-government talking points. High-profile state-run Russian outlets are lauding figures including Trump, who praised Putin for his “genius,” and Carlson, who has spread conspiracy theories about Ukraine and pro-Putin commentary this week and in the past.
Russian state media and pro-Kremlin outlets widely circulated comments made by Trump on the February 22 broadcast of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show. The articles about the former U.S. president primarily focused on his praise of Putin as an effective “genius” for recognizing the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LNR). Trump’s criticism of President Joe Biden’s handling of Ukrainian foreign policy was also amplified.
Russian media have long utilized clips from Carlson's Fox News program as a way to seemingly counterbalance what is perceived as overwhelmingly negative coverage of Russia in American media. In the week prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pro-Kremlin media weaponized quotes and clips from Carlson’s inflammatory segments on Ukraine to bolster narratives that the United States government was manufacturing an imaginary crisis in order to avoid domestic issues and that Ukraine was merely a “client” state of the West.
Taking advantage of Pompeo’s credentials as the previous U.S. secretary of State (and current Fox News contributor), pro-Kremlin media used his commentary for a number of clickbait headlines blaming the Biden administration over the crisis in Ukraine – criticizing the administration for a lack of leadership as well as of contributing to the “escalation.” Headlines quoting Pompeo utilized his comments to accuse Biden of giving a “green light” to Putin – to recognize the DNR and LNR – as a means of justification for the invasion. State-run Russian media have also favorably spun his quotes, including his compliments of Putin.
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
In the past week, Gabbard drew admiration from Russian pundits and media outlets for her February 22 appearance on Carlson’s show in which she opposed sanctions against Russia. Prominent pro-Kremlin pundits Vladimir Solovyov and Margarita Simonyan praised Gabbard's vocal opposition to sanctions, as well as her commentary on the “military-industrial complex” benefiting from a conflict with Russia.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)
Russian state media program Vesti included statements by the Missouri senator where he criticized the possibility of allowing Ukraine into NATO. Vesti described Hawley’s statements as advice to “not to protect Ukraine from a far-fetched threat.” Pro-Kremlin entities painted Hawley in a positive light, claiming he’s a “victim” of liberal media for his Russia-friendly statements.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
Pro-Kremlin news program Vesti included Cotton’s comments on Fox News pertaining to the first round of sanctions following Russia’s recognition of the DNR and LNR to bolster a framing of the western response as indecisive and scattershot. Measures that, in Cotton’s own words, constituted “not even a half measure.”
While U.S. intelligence community sources anticipated that Russia would utilize a “false flag” event to justify an invasion into Ukraine, what surprised some experts was the relative lack of any Kremlin pretense. Given the lack of convincing or legitimate Russian media narrative groundwork for the final invasion, the state-led entities will likely attempt to retroactively validate Putin’s actions to his Russian audience. State-led media’s use of American right-wing figures’ supportive statements following the unlawful recognition serves as a preview of the type of figures Russian propaganda will try to appropriate to feign normalcy, multilateral approval, and global support for the unjust war against Ukraine.