In Tucker Carlson Interview, Putin Suggests a Peace Deal (on His Terms)

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia kept returning to one message over and over in his meandering, two-hour interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson: Russia wants to negotiate a peace deal in Ukraine.

But the day after the long-anticipated interview, that message seemed lost in the muddle.

The Russian leader’s discursive historical diatribes, delving into everything from the Rurik dynasty to the Golden Horde, dominated commentary about the interview online and overshadowed the message he intended to deliver to Americans.

In Russia on Friday, experts and even some of Mr. Putin’s allies were also puzzling over why he gave short shrift to his main ideological commonality with Mr. Carlson’s followers: opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. rights and other liberal social causes.

Margarita Simonyan, head of the Russian state broadcaster, RT, lamented that Mr. Putin neglected to market Russia as a “a safe haven for people who are not ready to send their children to be raised by L.G.B.T. people.”

“This is the only thing on which Russia can and should now build an ideology externally,” Ms. Simonyan said, blaming Mr. Carlson for not asking the right questions. “Just as the U.S.S.R. once built it on the ideas of social equality.”

Instead, Mr. Putin spent much of the interview subjecting a baffled Mr. Carlson to an irredentist teach-in on 1,000 years of Eastern European history, leaving the former Fox News host, by his own admission, “shocked.”

The result was a sense the Russian leader missed a chance.

“I assume that he just didn’t try very hard,” Grigorii Golosov, a professor of political science at the European University at St. Petersburg, said in a phone interview. “If his goal was really to explain himself — and that’s what it seems to have been — then it is unlikely that he reached that goal.”

Mr. Golosov said that Mr. Putin’s main tactical aim was to try to compel the West to make a favorable deal to end the war — one that would cement Russia’s control of the Ukrainian territory it has already captured and, perhaps, lead to a more Russia-friendly government in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

“Putin feels that this is the very best moment to force the West into what he believes is the natural way out of this situation,” Mr. Golosov said. “And that means direct talks with Russia without the participation of Ukraine about how to end the conflict on Russia’s terms.”

Between the historical diatribes, that intent was evident.

Mr. Putin presented negotiations, on his terms, as a way out, now that the West had finally realized Russia was not going to suffer a “strategic defeat” on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“It is never going to happen,” Mr. Putin said. “It seems to me that now those who are in power in the West have come to realize this as well. If so, if the realization has set in, they have to think what to do next. We are ready for this dialogue.”

At another point, he asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to come to an agreement with Russia?”

His pitch comes at a particularly challenging moment for Ukraine.

Kyiv is facing ammunition and personnel shortages, significant opposition to additional aid in Washington and the prospect of a Russia-friendly former president, Donald J. Trump, returning to the White House. A Western-backed counteroffensive designed to retake territory last year failed, and the military leadership is in the midst of a chaotic shake-up.

Mr. Putin offered an alternative to doubling down on support for Ukraine.

“He was quite clearly pitching to the Republican right, trying to expand the number of votes against aid to Ukraine, trying to develop or nurture support in this country for a negotiated solution on his terms,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. That said, he added, it clearly wasn’t Mr. Putin’s “finest performance.”

In Ukraine, where officials have been deeply skeptical of Mr. Putin’s signaling of a desire for talks in recent months — as Russian missile barrages streak into cities across the country — the suggestion was dismissed as unserious.

“Carlson’s interview with Putin is a two-hour marathon of delusions and fakes,” the Center for Strategic Communications, a Ukrainian government organization, said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials and commentators have said they see in Mr. Putin’s overtures not a willingness to compromise, but rather an effort to undermine support in Congress for military assistance, by suggesting the war might end soon through negotiations.

In the interview, Mr. Putin brought the message of a possible settlement directly to “the masses of Trump’s electorate” on X, Maria Zolkina, a political analyst, wrote in a post on Facebook, suggesting it was aimed at swaying American policies on Ukraine by resonating with Republicans opposed to aid.

The argument that the war could end through concessions to Russia, she said, “fits right in with Trump’s narrative.”

Mr. Putin could see this year as his moment to cut a deal that would allow him to regroup and pursue bigger aims in Ukraine later on. While Russia has seized the initiative on the battlefield, it still faces significant limitations, as well as heavily fortified Ukrainian front lines. As a result, the Russian military is unlikely to sweep across Ukrainian territory and seize any new, big cities in the immediate future.

The content of Mr. Putin’s historical diatribes — designed to portray Ukraine as a fake country without a separate identity — didn’t signal a Russia willing to compromise.

The Ukrainian government has noted Mr. Putin has never backed away from his maximalist demands, interpreting the goal of “demilitarizing” and “de-Nazifying” Ukraine as halting Western military assistance and installing a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.

“We have seen the movie before regarding his view of history and his utter avoidance of the fact that Ukraine became an internationally recognized country with sovereign borders in 1991,” said Mr. Kupchan, the Eurasia Group chairman. “He genuinely thinks that Ukraine was his, is his and will always be his.”

Andrew E. Kramer, Milana Mazaeva and Neil MacFarquhar contributed to this report.