Russian Gambit

Garry Kasparov tells Christopher Bateman about his stratagem to take over in the Kremlin.

R: Russian Democracy

Garry Kasparov is a veritable superstar in America. The line to get into the chess whiz's recent book signing in New York was so long it snaked around the corner, and the crowd was excited. Upon Kasparov's arrival, one gleeful admirer yelled, "It's Garry Kasparov!" and reached out to touch the former chess grand master, before promptly being escorted away by security. But the point of the security isn't to ward off aggressive chess groupies: These days the life expectancy of dissidents in Russia is not exactly encouraging, and Kasparov-the presidential candidate of the Other Russia party-is one of the most public and vocal critics of Vladimir Putin's rule. Kasparov's run hasn't been easy so far. Though he receives warm receptions in the West, he is almost wholly banned from television and other mass media in Russia. He and his team have been arrested for staging protests, turned away from hotels, and harassed by crypto-fascist youth groups.While he was promoting his new book How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves-from the Board to the Boardroom, we spoke with him about the state of Russia as it looks forward to its March presidential election, a contest Kasparov concedes he has no realistic chance of winning. For now, he says, his goal is not to win elections, but to have them.GOOD: So you're running for office. Do you have a slogan?GARRY KASPAROV: We have three. One is "Russia without Putin," which is more important than just without Putin-Putin is a symbol. Two is "No to the unfair elections," and three is "No to monopoly in power." Of course, we have other ideas about political reform: we want to reduce presidential powers and enhance parliament with new functions, we want the government to be responsible for the parliament, and, most important, we want the entire political system to depend on elections, not on appointments.Other Russia includes nationalists and communists among its ranks. Are there any groups you would not ally yourself with?We're not making alliance with fascists, skinheads, or other groups promoting racial or social hatred. We are not different from many countries where people fought dictatorships. It's about your priority. Our priority is to build democracy, to eliminate restrictions on the political …debate. As long as these groups are fully supporting the notion of building liberal democracy, I feel absolutely comfortable dealing with them.Your critics in Russia also often link you to the United States, calling you pro-American, claiming-falsely, you have said-that you have an American passport.I do not have an American passport.I know. I know you've denied it.There's no denying. It's amazing. I never had one.I believe you.I never had any other passport. I had Soviet and then later, Russian.But these claims still carry some weight over there. They don't stand with the majority of Russians, because I'm still for them, the Soviet champion. I've been playing for my country for 25 years. When I see these Kremlin stooges who never did anything for the country now trying to accuse me of being pro-American-why don't they give me a chance to speak out?But you believe part of the solution lies with the West?I think Russia is much closer to the West than this regime pretends. In fact, they are integrated in the Western economy. I move anywhere where people are ready to listen. Look at the list of my interviews in America. … I do not have my political preference in America. When I look at the candidates, I always want to hear what they say about Russia. If you read my articles about Bush, you'll find quite a harsh criticism of the actions of this administration.\n\n\n
Obviously, the latest presidency of the United States created a lot of problems, because Russians no longer see America as the moral leader.
Are there any candidates for the presidential election here whose approach to Russia has impressed you?It's getting better on the Republican side. The only one to articulate it strongly is Senator McCain. Otherwise, I still don't understand the programs of the candidates. The front-runners are trying to be so defensive. I have friends on both sides. What we do not like is the current administration, which made a big mistake from the very beginning, and now they've stuck with this mistake.It's hard to forget how Bush said he "looked into Putin's soul" and saw a "straightforward and trustworthy" man.He doesn't have to play psychiatrist. He's a president-he must look at the record, not at the eyes. And Bush couldn't explain his position on Putin's intentions to stay [in office]. That was most devastating. He didn't respond. He was very vague. We expected him to make a strong statement.Do you think the U.S.'s influence in Russia has been diminished by its own recent moral failures, like rendition, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo?Obviously, the latest presidency of the United States created a lot of problems, because Russians no longer see America as the moral leader. When Cheney makes a speech in Vilnius [Lithuania] criticizing Russia and then goes to Kazakhstan to embrace [the Kazakh president, Nursultan] Nazarbayev, even for Russians who are not anti-American, it creates a simple question. … It's not about the promotion of democracy; it's about America using democracy to promote its own geopolitical interests.Some people argue that Russia, as a fledgling capitalist society, has found a good balance between dictatorship and free markets for now. Are they living in Russia? They're not. I despise people who promote dictatorship for short-term benefit. ... I still believe the strength of the free world is not only the market economy. It's also moral principles. But the sad irony is that these people can't see more than one move ahead, because they are making nice money on the Russian stock market and they're not able to analyze the situation, which is almost disastrous.Right-despite its growing GDP, Russia is plagued by social problems. Suicide, AIDS, alcoholism, and crime have gone up in the last 10 years, correct?Absolutely. There is no improvement in social conditions.What should the West's approach to Russia be?The West should not be panicking when Putin talks about targeting Western cities with Russian missiles. … If the West is getting serious about halting Putin, you should stop talking about petty issues and look at the big one, which is the investments of the Russian ruling elite in the free world.Are your efforts gaining any traction?I think there is progress. People are paying attention. I think people have recognized that Putin belongs not to the G7, but to Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Castro. As for Other Russia, we're in survival mode. Every day we survive we reach out to more people. We will continue our fight, although we understand that it requires other components to be added for us to be successful.So what happens after the March election?We have to play it by ear. ... The regime will not collapse as a result of the public vote, that much I know. It will be a deep internal crisis that will result in an uprising that will eventually destroy the monolith of the ruling elite. It's already falling apart, with different groups fighting each other. It's something that I expect within the next two years' time-maybe earlier-to speed up, create extra opportunities for us. So we just have to be around when it falls apart.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

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