Thursday night saw the release of the most hotly anticipated interview of this year so far: American talk show host Tucker Carlson’s questioning of Vladimir Putin.
But if Carlson went into the interview expecting to go toe-to-toe with the former KGB man and hold the Russian despot’s feet to the fire, then he was sorely mistaken, according to one body language expert.
Instead, Judi James tells MailOnline, Putin was able to disarm Carlson from the beginning with a simple trick, allowing him to ‘control the narrative’.
This handed him a platform to deliver a rambling history lecture, spout off Russian nationalist propaganda and attempt to justify his brutal 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
‘With Carlson sitting almost frozen in front of him, Putin used the opportunity of global cameras to deliver a history lecture that lasted nearly two hours,’ says James.
Thursday night saw the release of the most hotly anticipated interview of this year so far: American talk show host Tucker Carlson’s questioning of Vladimir Putin (pictured)
But if Carlson went into the interview expecting to have enough control over the situation to hold Vladimir Putin’s feet to the fire, then he was sorely mistaken, according to one body language expert who has analysed the interview for MailOnline
‘After using some body language techniques to apparently destabilise Carlson’s confidence,’ she says Putin was able to ‘retain control of the narrative, timing and the direction of travel’ of the interview, which was recorded on Tuesday in Moscow.
Meanwhile, the president appeared to be ‘enjoying himself’, she says, and even seemed ‘jovial’ when talking to the former Fox News host.
Putin came across as personal with Carlson, but at the same time used ‘powerful’ gestures of control ‘in the style of a teacher controlling a class’ throughout the duration of the chilling two-hour long interview.
‘Putin’s constantly rounded cheeks suggested he was enjoying himself,’ James – a body language expert who has authored several books on the subject – says.
‘There were chuckles and shrugs and flurries of gestures that were used to endorse his theme that his history as president was primarily about olive branches and then defensive protection.
‘His one-shoulder shrugs and some mouth shrugs were performed to signal regret and an air of “not my fault”,’ James continues.
‘He raised both hands to hold out at chest height with the palms facing outward and fingers splayed in a stronger gesture of wanting to hold things back and to defend.’
At one point, Putin was asked why he chose to invade Ukraine.
In response to this, James says, Putin ‘let out a long sigh and performed a cut-off eye ritual by looking down. His first response looked jovial though: “Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?”‘
This, she says, ‘prompted an overkill, open-mouth laugh response from Carlson.’
But there was one trick that Putin performed at the beginning of the interview which allowed him to take charge from the offset.
Body language expert Judi James tells MailOnline, Putin was able to disarm Carlson from the beginning with a simple trick, allowing him to ‘control the narrative’
There was one trick that Putin performed at the beginning of the interview which allowed him to take charge from the offset, and that was fiddling with his watch (pictured) during the first question, which James said distracted Carlson and put him on the back foot
‘Putin’s very first gesture or body language ritual was an act of distraction that looked like an early intention to take charge,’ James says.
‘While Carlson framed his first question, Putin seemed busy fiddling with his watch.
‘He undid the strap before placing it very deliberately onto the table and appeared to check the time as though in control of any timing,’ she explained.
Putin also disarmed Carlson with ‘personal acknowledgement’, James says.
He ‘told Tucker at the start that “Your basic education is in history as far as I understand.” Which suggests research into Tucker’s background – which could actually be flattering or chilling, depending on the world leader that said it.
As for what gestures he used to command the interview, she says the despot ‘frequently used the upward pointing index finger and at one point did the gesture with both index fingers.
‘This is a very powerful signal of control and authority,’ she explains.
‘It implies the other person should listen without speaking and also to obey if a command it being made.’
She likened Putin’s freedom to give a history lecture – which dated back to the dawn of Slavic history in 862 – to a teacher holding a lesson.
‘Putin was able to use his command gestures in the style of a teacher controlling a class,’ James says. This nullified any control Carlson had over the proceedings.
‘Carlson’s body language became pretty non-existent for a while as a result. His brows puckered into a frown of what at times looked like confusion and his lips pursed tightly. At some points he was barely blinking,’ she says.
Meanwhile, in ‘teacher’ mode, James says ‘Putin’s brows were often raised and his eyes widened for emphasis. He also added a head baton at points for emphasis.’
James said Putin used gestures to command the interview. The despot ‘frequently used the upward pointing index finger and at one point did the gesture with both index fingers, and also used ‘counting’ gestures to ensure that he was not interrupted by Carlson
‘With Carlson sitting almost frozen in front of him, Putin used the opportunity of global cameras to deliver a history lecture that lasted nearly two hours,’ says James
The Russian strongman also used what James calls ‘endorsement and proof’ rituals.
She highlighted one point in the interview where Putin had a staffer hand him a larger folder of documents.
He said this was ‘So that you [Carlson] don’t think I’m inventing things.’
‘When the notes were presented, Putin’s cheeks rounded to show enjoyment and his features seemed to twitch in a signal of good humour,’ James says.
He also ‘used several “listing” gestures, counting his points off on the fingers of his hands.’ This, she says, was to to ensure he was not interrupted.
James picked out several other points of interest in the interview.
After 25 minutes, she says Putin was using an eye stare and a chopping gesture to ‘validate’ his points, and after 28 minutes ‘he began to employ a waggling index finger, implying not just authority but a telling-off’.
The cold stare seen 30 minutes into the interview came after the Russian president claimed to Carlson that he and former US president Bill Clinton had discussed Russia joining NATO.
For asking ‘were you sincere?’, Carlson ‘received a cold hard state from Putin, plus the raised index finger,’ James says.
As he boasted having the best hypersonic missiles out of any country in the world, the body language expert said Putin displayed some ‘alpha chest puffing’.
And, James said, Putin’s chuckle and his use of the word ‘kindergarten’ (40 minutes into the interview) before he spoke about Ukraine joining NATO looked like a classic diminishing technique.’
As the interview continued, he only seemed to ‘relax’ more, ‘leaning into the arm of his chair so that his left arm was stretched out in a confident splay gesture,’ she says.
The interview was also being keenly watched for signs of Putin’s rumoured poor health. Although he seemed very much in control of the situation, observers noted how Putin was bizarrely twisting his left foot throughout the conversation.
As the interview continued, Putin only seemed to ‘relax’ more, ‘leaning into the arm of his chair so that his left arm was stretched out in a confident splay gesture,’ James says
But James says it was ‘hard to spot any body language signs of Putin’s rumoured ill-health here, and the way he kept up a running narrative lasting over two hours using energetic gesticulation did seem to imply stamina.
‘He did clear his throat several times and take a sip of water but in two hours that might be expected,’ she adds.
She did say there were some signs of Putin’s ‘familiar’ rituals, like ‘the holding of the left chair arm by winding the hand round it and the movements of the feet.’
However, James added, ‘his right hand was utilised throughout the interview to gesticulate with no apparent signs of weakness and although his feet did move there was no obvious sign of the kind of constant shuffling that has been spotted before.’
After delivering Carlson and the American’s viewers his half-hour history lecture, Putin went on to claim that Russia and Ukraine almost agreed to a peace deal in Istanbul shortly after the full-scale war began in 2022.
This, he says, was turned down by Ukraine at the behest of the West, specifically Boris Johnson, then British prime minister.
Despite the fact that it was Russia that was the aggressor and invaded Ukraine, he suggested the West and Kyiv think about peace.
‘Wouldn’t it be better to come to an agreement with Russia? To agree, understanding the situation that is today, understanding that Russia will fight for its interests to the end, and, understanding this, actually return to common sense, start respecting our country, its interests and look for some solutions?’
And Russia? ‘We are ready for this dialogue,’ he said.
Putin questioned why the United States needed to spend so much on arming Ukraine for a war he cast in some ways similar to a ‘civil war’ – incorrectly suggesting that Ukraine and Russia are a single nation.
Putin (right) and Carlson shake hands during their interview in Moscow on Tuesday
‘Does the United States need this? Why? It is thousands of kilometres away from its territory! Don’t you have anything else to do?’ Putin said. He also said there were mercenaries from the United States, Poland and Georgia fighting for Ukraine.
Asked by Carlson about NATO fears that the situation in Ukraine could grow into a global war or nuclear conflict, Putin said that the West was trying to scare its populations with the myths of a Russian threat.
Despite worries in the West, Putin pointed to the fact that Russia has not used tactical nuclear weapons.
Putin said Russia would only ever attack Poland or Latvia if there was an attack on Russia from Poland. Russia, Putin said, has no interests in Poland or Latvia. Putin denied Russia had designs on the whole continent of Europe.
‘You don’t need to be some sort of analyst to know that this contradicts common sense – to get involved in some sort of global war. A global war would bring the whole of humanity to the brink of extinction. It is obvious,’ Putin said.
In the build up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin and other Kremlin officials denied that Moscow had any plans to launch invasion.
This was despite Russia building up a vast invasion force on the border in early 2022, before the strongman ordered his forces to attack Ukraine on February 24.
Putin said the West had failed to understand that Russia, after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, wanted to be part of the family of so called ‘civilised peoples’ but that its hopes were spurned as NATO enlarged eastwards.
The West, Putin said, was more afraid of China than of Russia due to its swift economic growth.
In the interview with Carlson, Putin also claimed the West had failed to understand that Russia, after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, wanted to be part of the family of so called ‘civilised peoples’.
He said its hopes were spurned as NATO enlarged eastwards.
Putin has regularly cited NATO expansion as a reason for his invasion of Ukraine.
However, countries that have joined NATO cite the threat of Russian aggression as the reason for them joining the military alliance, with countries – most recently traditionally non-aligned Finland and Sweden – wanting the protection it brings.
A Ukrainian soldier of the Khartia brigade throws a grenade from a trench during a training as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on February 7
The Kremlin said Putin agreed to the interview with Carlson because the approach of the American host ‘differed from the one-sided reporting of the Ukraine conflict’.
The President was allowed to drone on unchallenged for long chunks of time, and repeated falsehoods about Ukraine’s statehood.
Putin has long claimed incorrectly that Ukraine is not an independent state, and that his invasion intends to reunify the two states. Ukraine says it is a distinct state with a distinct national identity, and that its history dates back before Russia.
The Ukrainian people’s willingness to fight the Russian invaders, and the anger felt towards Moscow, have demonstrated how strongly the country feels about this.