Garry Kasparov, the one-time chess champion of the world who turned his brilliant fighting mind to challenge the iron grip of Vladimir Putin in his native Russia, has issued a statement clarifying his speech on June 5 in Geneva in which he said “…for the time being, I refrain from returning to Russia.”
Kasparov had appeared in Geneva to accept U.N. Watch’s Human Rights Award. He has not been in Russia since February; the Moscow prosecutor’s office has started an investigation that would limit his ability to travel.
Kasparov stated that his fight for Russia has not ceased, and delineated exactly how tyrannical Putin is and how he can be brought down. He illustrated Putin’s tyranny by relating that “nearly half the members of the opposition’s Coordinating Council are under criminal investigation on concocted charges ranging from illegal protest to embezzlement.” Likening present-day Moscow to Pyongyang, Kasparov writes:
He has since shown no hesitation in persecuting activists, leaders, lawyers, scientists, or even musicians who dare to publicly challenge his power. Putin has taken off the flimsy mask of democracy to reveal himself in full as the would-be KGB dictator he has always been. The phase of attempting to create popular outrage by going through the motions of sham elections is over. Everyone knows the system is a cruel joke, but this knowledge is not in itself sufficient to get millions of people to risk their safety and freedom against a well-armed police state.
Kasparov lauds the U.S for passing the Magnitsky Act, which denies visas to and freezes the assets of those in Russia who violate human rights. Should Europe follow suit, Kasparov writes, “The oligarchs who support Putin and the officials who carry out his orders do so in exchange for his ability to protect their fortunes and their lavish lifestyles abroad” would stop supporting Putin.
But the central key to Putin’s power, says Kasparov, is keeping oil prices high:
Should the price of oil drop significantly the Putin regime’s ability to keep expanding the bloated public sector would be crippled. The huge expenditures on propaganda and the security apparatus would stand out even more as Putin’s top priority. Pensions and subsidies would squeeze the budget and tough cuts would be required. People would stop being so forgiving of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been siphoned out of Russia by Putin’s closest cronies, who pulled money from the treasury and into European real estate and Swiss banks. A drop in oil prices and the subsequent economic shock would also break Putin’s unspoken promise to the average Russian citizen: that in exchange for their freedoms, that in exchange for giving up democracy and free speech, they would have economic security.
Kasparov is now the chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, among whose programs is the “We Choose” online democracy project in Iran. Kasparov, whose father was Jewish, quoted the Talmud in his June 5 speech, saying, “The day is short, the task is great, the master is insistent.”
“Indeed, the days often feel very short and the tasks facing us are very great. The next verse, Avot two-twenty-one, is also relevant to this never-ending battle for human rights and justice. ‘It is not your duty to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it,'” he wrote.
I will not desist. I am not abandoning Russia or the fight to oust Vladimir Putin and restore the rule of law in my homeland. Russia will always be my country and I will not subject myself to the whims of thugs and crooks. I refuse to be an easy target or to be caged and limited to being little more than a figure of sympathy… When Putin falls, as every dictator does, I look forward to helping build an open and independent Russia, a strong and democratic Russia, a Russia where we are all free to live and to speak without fear.