Tucker Carlson over a grey background featuring chyrons aired in his coverage of Ukraine, a stripe with the colors of the russian flag covers his eyes with the text of his infamous "why shouldn't I root for Russia" quote
Andrea Austria/ Media Matters for America

Research/Study Research/Study

Tucker Carlson’s history of pro-Kremlin, anti-Ukraine propaganda

Tucker Carlson’s dizzying mess of spin and deflection on Russia’s war in Ukraine

As Russian missiles rain down across Ukraine, Fox News finds itself scrambling to find its footing after weeks of downplaying the mounting crisis and shifting blame for escalating tensions away from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Among Fox’s cacophony of coverage throughout the last month, Tucker Carlson’s voice once again rang the loudest.

In 2019, Carlson exclaimed on air that he was, in fact, “root[ing] for Russia” in what was then a simmering conflict in Ukraine, before quickly backtracking when the comment drew immediate backlash. Carlson would eventually argue to his viewers that “we should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

As the possibility of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia escalated from a theoretical possibility to an impending crisis, Carlson insisted that Russia’s military buildup and the looming threat of war were fundamentally inconsequential to American national interests. Carlson levied a steady campaign against intervention on behalf of Ukraine, downplaying reports from the intelligence community and decrying conversations about possible interventions as hysteria by warmongers desperate to lead America into another quagmire like the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He further attempted to frame the Ukrainian government as an authoritarian regime undeserving of American sympathies. Carlson’s efforts to downplay Russia’s threat to Ukraine, and his repeated justification of the impending invasion, were significant enough for Russian state TV to air them as part of its domestic propaganda. Following the Russian invasion, a memo was leaked to Mother Jones in which Kremlin officials instructed state media outfits to “use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson” in their coverage justifying the war.

A horrific armed conflict now ravages Ukraine and threatens the stability of Europe, the Russian leadership has floated the threat of nuclear retaliation against Ukraine’s would-be allies. In a pivot that would give most people whiplash, Carlson’s analysis of the deadly crisis has laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of American leadership. In an absurd segment, Carlson attempted to blame VP Kamala Harris for his years of pro-Kremlin talking points – which dates back in at least one instance to before Harris was even sworn in as a Senator in January 2017.

Carlson also now insists that the Biden administration's failure to intervene in a timely manner, as well as progressive environmental politics, were ultimately responsible for Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin has received little more than a passing condemnation from Fox News’ most influential voice.

The Ukrainian people are fighting for their lives and their country, facing a military superpower. Their enemy has never shied away from committing war crimes or brutalizing civilian populations in order to achieve objectives. (Reports of crimes against civilians and the use of banned weapons have already emerged in Ukraine.) The battles for Ukraine have already been bloody, and will almost certainly result in more devastation and loss of life. Carlson’s scramble to reset his commentary on Putin and outrun his past defense of the Russian regime's actions points back to a simple axiom: Tucker Carlson will defend the indefensible up until the moment he faces consequences.

  • December 19, 2016: Carlson cast doubt on the CIA assessment that Russia interfered with the U.S. election and said he’s “open-minded” about Russia.

  • January 3, 2017: Carlson questioned attempts to sanction Russia for cyber attacks.

  • January 13, 2017: On then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Senate hearings, Carlson asked, “Why are they so anti-Russia?”

  • January 18, 2017: Carlson argued with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Russia and the DNC hacking, asking how Russian interference in the election was any “different” from other nations spying on the U.S.

  • May 3, 2017: Carlson questioned whether Russia is a threat to democracy and claimed not to have seen “any evidence” of Russia’s wrongdoing, including regarding Ukraine.

  • July 26, 2017: In an interview with then-Vice President Mike Pence, Carlson asked whether sanctions against Russia in response to aggression in Ukraine would help America.

  • January 14, 2019: Carlson: “Why should I care about whether Russia invades Ukraine?”

  • January 15, 2019: Carlson argued that the U.S. shouldn’t have to uphold Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and defend the Baltic member states of NATO.

  • September 24, 2019: Following the revelation of then-President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump attempted to extort Ukraine into assisting with his re-election effort, Carlson said, “Nobody has bothered to explain why sending $400 million in military aid to Ukraine is in the interest of the United States.”

  • September 30, 2019: Carlson claimed that “mindlessly sending military aid to Ukraine in order to antagonize Russia” jeopardizes American national security.

  • September 30, 2019: Carlson questioned why the U.S. should send aid to Ukraine: “Why should you be in favor of that? Does it help America? Does it make you safer?” Later, he asked, “Why do we care so much” about “Russia messing around in Ukraine, or Estonia, Crimea or whatever?” finally ending with, “Why wouldn’t we be friends with Russia?”

  • September 30, 2019: Carlson: It's just funny that my country actually is being invaded by other countries from the south — look at the population movement into the United States without our permission. And nobody cares and caring is itself seen as immoral. But we have to be outraged, morally outraged that Russia is making belligerent noises at Ukraine. Do you think that's weird?

  • October 29, 2019: Carlson claimed that Trump was being punished for not supporting Ukraine’s independence, glibly commenting, “His phone call was unacceptable because it might prevent America from automatically unthinkingly spending billions of dollars over many years to prop up a country that most Americans could not find on a globe at gunpoint.”

  • November 13, 2019: Carlson devoted his monologue to mocking America’s relationship with Ukraine: “We need Ukraine like a drowning man needs a life ring, or more precisely like an alcoholic needs a drink.” Later, Carlson dismissed the need to defend Ukraine: “Ukraine is very far away from us. That could be Trump's campaign slogan. In fact, let's hope it is Trump's campaign slogan.”

  • November 15, 2019: Tucker asked Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), “Why are we taking Ukraine’s side in a war against Russia?” Carlson added that Russia invading Crimea is “totally fine” with him as it “has no effect on America.”

  • November 15, 2019: Tucker asked retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas MacGregor why we should care about the Ukraine-Russia conflict and accused the State Department of pushing the U.S. into a war with Russia.

  • November 25, 2019: Tucker Carlson said that he's rooting for Russia against Ukraine

  • Video file

    Citation From the November 25, 2019 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • December 2, 2019: Despite having previously said that he was “joking” about rooting for Russia over Ukraine, Tucker doubled down on supporting the Russians in the conflict: “I don’t think that we should be at war with Russia. And I think we should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine. That is my view."

  • December 17, 2019: Carlson baselessly argued “The only purpose of aid to the government of Ukraine is to antagonize Russia,” adding that viewers should “keep in mind” the costs of antagonizing “a country with more nuclear weapons than any other country on the globe.”

  • December 18, 2019: Carlson mocked the idea of supplying military aid to Ukraine, which he surmised would not have been what the founders intended; “If there's one thing Jefferson and Madison agreed on, arm Ukraine.”

  • January 30, 2020: Carlson mocked the American relationship with Ukraine: “Ukraine -- that noble, windswept Eastern European nation that is our single greatest ally in the world, maybe our only real ally. If Ukraine wants it, we provide it. That's the rule, as they’ve explained in the Senate. All decent Americans stand with Ukraine. Now, for a moment the president seemed to falter in his moral duty to stand with Ukraine, and for that he is being impeached.”

  • January 31, 2020: Carlson said Trump should have canceled aid to Ukraine: “There is no reason to send weapons to Ukraine, in my opinion.”

  • February 5, 2020: Carlson mocked the need to defend Ukraine: “It is our highest and most sacred duty to support the people of Ukraine and needless to say, that includes giving them sophisticated weapons systems whenever they ask for them and neve, ever delaying the delivery of those weapons, even for a moment.”

  • February 5, 2020: Fellow Fox News host Jeanine Pirro joined in Carlson’s mocking of Ukraine, saying, “I didn't know Ukraine was so important,” to which Carlson responded, “All important! There's nothing more important than Ukraine!”

  • November 10, 2021: Carlson questioned why the average American should care about the borders of Ukraine and Crimea when, according to him, “our own territorial integrity has been flagrantly violated” by immigrants.

  • December 7, 2021: Carlson and his guest, retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas MacGregor, speculated that Russia's return to its Orthodox Christian views could be the reason America and the West seem bent on its destruction.

  • December 7, 2021: Carlson again compared Russia's attempts to invade Ukraine to immigrants coming through America's southern border.

  • December 7, 2021: Carlson aired a chyron telling viewers that the threats against Ukraine were taking place because Russian President Vladimir Putin “just wants to keep his western border secure.”

  • Tucker Carlson host Tucker Carlson tonight, the chyron reads 'Putin just wants to keep his western border secure"
  • December 21, 2021: Carlson included the narrative that “Ukraine is essential to our national security” within a list of so-called government “psy-op[s]” that are “designed to convince you of something that’s just obviously false.”

  • February 17, 2022: Carlson mocked media companies for reporting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was imminent based on reports by intelligence agency sources, dismissing the possibility of air strikes and cyber attacks. “According to Politico, this physical assault ‘could be preceded by a barrage of missile strikes and cyberattacks. So these aren't just gang members. They’re Russians,” Carlson said.

  • February 17, 2022: Carlson called Zelensky a “puppet of the Biden administration” who was also a “low-grade comic of some kind.”

  • February 22, 2022: In his opening monologue, Carlson gave a passionate defense of Putin as a person.

  • Video file

    Citation From the February 22, 2022, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • February 22, 2022: Carlson aired a chyron mocking criticism of Putin: “Anything Less Than Hating Putin is Treason.”

  • February 22, 2022: Carlson called Russia’s buildup of forces surrounding much of Ukraine’s border a simple “border dispute.”

  • February 22, 2022: Carlson mocked Biden’s condemnations of Putin, joking that “you're going to win an important moral victory against dastardly old Vladimir Putin, who is much, much worse than Justin Trudeau. Just so you know. So you can feel good about that because — because — let's see, come to think of it, why would you feel good about that?”

  • February 22, 2022: Carlson told viewers that the reason the Biden administration was considering providing support for Ukraine is because “Joe Biden likes Ukraine. So Putin bad, war good.”

  • Tucker Carlson aired a chyron suggesting that Biden’s attention to Ukraine is due to a conflict of interest.
  • February 23, 2022: Carlson compared Russia invading Ukraine to migrants crossing the American southern border.

  • February 23, 2022: Carlson told viewers that “Ukraine, to be technical, is not a democracy. Democracies don't arrest political opponents and they don't shut down opposition media.”

  • February 23, 2022: Carlson lied to his viewers, claiming that, technicallly, it was Russia that fought the Nazis while Ukraine collaborated.

  • February 23, 2022: Carlson called Ukraine “a pure client state of the United States State Department.” 

  • On February 24, at about 6 a.m. Moscow time, Putin announced the military incursion of Russian forces into Ukraine.

  • February 24, 2022: Carlson covered the Russian assault on Kyiv by complaining about “maternity flight suits” for American servicemembers.

  • February 24, 2022: On Tucker Carlson Tonight, guest Erik Prince complained that the Biden administration did not listen to him on Ukraine.

  • February 24, 2022: Tucker Carlson blamed the “climate people” for emboldening Putin and giving him the power to send Europe and the U.S. into an economic depression.

  • February 25, 2022: Carlson delivered an outraged monologue, calling the invasion a “humiliating defeat” for Biden and criticizing him for failing to prevent the war.

  • February 25, 2022: Carlson’s guest Charles Hurt blamed the Green New Deal and Biden’s environmental policy for the invasion of Ukraine.

  • February 28, 2022: Five days after claiming that Americans had no real reason to hate Putin, Carlson claimed it was understandable that “most Americans now despise Vladimir Putin.”

  • February 28, 2022: Carlson compared the invasion of Ukraine to the January 6 insurrection, telling viewers it will be used to persecute those who “dissent” and “purge the country of the Democratic Party’s political opponents.”

  • February 28, 2022: Carlson railed against the demonetization and banning of Russian propaganda outlets like RT from social media platforms, claiming it was an effort at “censoring the opinions of Americans.”

  • March 1, 2022: Carlson claimed that “Big Tech has aligned with intel agencies to curate everything you learned about the war being fought in your name in Ukraine” to censor supposed pro-Russia content.

  • March 1, 2022: Carlson’s guest Miranda Devine compared the war in Ukraine to the situation at the southern border, claiming both situations are “an invasion in anyone's language.”

  • March 1, 2022: Carlson mocked a deceptively edited clip of Vice President Kamala Harris explaining the situation in Ukraine in layman's terms.

  • March 2, 2022: Carlson argued against the removal of Putin from office, warning it would be “counterproductive to our interests.”

  • March 2, 2022: Carlson mocked the bipartisan support shown for Ukraine during the State of the Union.

  • March 3, 2022: Carlson’s guest said aid to Ukraine should be conditional on funding the border wall and border security.

  • March 3, 2022: Tucker Carlson attempted to blame Vice President Kamala Harris for his failure to take intelligence reports warning of the impending invasion of Ukraine seriously.

  • March 7, 2022: Carlson claimed that Trump’s 2019 impeachment for “threatening to withhold military aid” to Ukraine was actually a plot by Democrats to intentionally incite war with Russia.

  • March 8, 2022: Carlson told his viewers a bizarre lie that the Biden administration “effectively encouraged” Putin to invade Ukraine.

  • March 9, 2022: Carlson accused America of “mounting a disinformation campaign” against Russia.

  • March 10, 2022: Carlson delivered a barely veiled dig at his colleague, Fox national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Carlson accused reporters fact-checking claims about the Ukraine biolab conspiracy theories, which Griffin did on the March 9 edition of Hannity, of “lying” while not bothering “to do any reporting whatsoever.”

  • March 11, 2022: Carlson called Biden’s ban on Russian oil “the single most damaging thing any American president has ever done to this country and to the world.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the March 11, 2022, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight 

  • March 13, 2022: Mother Jones reported a Kremlin memo that instructed Russian media to “use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally.”

  • March 14, 2022: Carlson lashed out at critics who called out his pro-Kremlin coverage of the war in Ukraine.

  • March 14, 2022: Carlson denied he ever said the U.S. was making bioweapons in Ukraine.

  • March 15, 2022: Carlson said America could be hurting Ukrainians by providing weapons for their defense against Russia.

  • March 16, 2022: Carlson compared the invasion of Ukraine to undocumented immigration, telling viewers that the U.S. has “had a slow-motion invasion to the tune of tens of millions of people for, like, more than a decade.” Guest Joe Kent added that aiding Ukrainains leads them “down the path to further slaughter.”

  • March 17, 2022: Carlson criticized the provision of weapons and defense support to Ukraine, instead demanding that the U.S. military be deployed to the border with Mexico.

  • March 17, 2022: Carlson hosted Douglas Macgregor, who accused the U.S. of using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “as a battering ram against Moscow.” Later, Macgregor touted the “Austrian or Swedish-style neutrality” suggested by Russia that “hasn’t harmed anybody.”

  • March 18, 2022: Carlson hosted the Washington Times' Charles Hurt to complain that our leaders care more about Ukrainians than Americans.

  • March 18, 2022: Guest Bryan Dean Wright said, “What I'm asking Americans to do tonight is put aside their hatred for Putin or Zelenskyy, for that matter, or Ukraine or Russia. Put all that aside for a moment. Understand that we have, in effect, declared war against Russia.”

  • March 21, 2022: Carlson attacked the Ukrainian government, describing it as a “growing dictatorship” embodying “authoritarianism.”

  • March 22, 2022: Carlson claimed that in the U.S., “both parties are agitating for a new war with nuclear armed Russia.”

  • March 23, 2022: Carlson blamed Ukraine’s refusal to “come to terms” with Russia for famine and food insecurity.

  • March 23, 2022: Carlson attacked those who don’t agree with his point of view on Ukraine, saying they are “people who genuinely loathe the anthem, who won't stand for the national anthem, who tell you that this country is born in sin and iniquity and its core institutions are rotten.”

  • March 24, 2022: Carlson implied that the Biden administration is shutting down the biolabs conspiracy theory because of Hunter Biden’s connections with Burisma. He then claimed that his show never mentioned “bioweapons” before questioning the true intent of the bio-labs in Ukraine.

  • March 28, 2022: Carlson issued a bizarre warning to viewers that if Putin is removed, “it’s likely” Islamic extremists will “wind up with” a nuclear weapon and attack America.

  • March 28, 2022: The brother of Kyiv’s mayor condemned Carlson’s coverage of the invasion: “You’re part of this invasion. Blood is on your hands.”

  • March 30, 2022: Carlson praised analysis claiming “Putin, whatever we may think of him as a human being, is actually on our side.”