Chess Master Garry Kasparov Talks Putin’s Poker

SAN FRANCISCO — World-famous Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov has made no secret Monday evening of his fierce disdain for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule and for his gang of oligarchs in their war against the West–including the United States of America.

Kasparov reiterated his criticisms before a sold-out crowd of his admirers, many of whom were Russian, at the Commonwealth Club, where he discussed his latest book, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped

The title of the book–also, coincidentally, the title of the first episode in the first season of the hit TV series Game of Thrones–is meant to serve as a warning about the impending doom that the world will face should the West continue down its path of chronic appeasement, weakness and moral capitulation on which Putin depends to maintain his power.

He compared Putin’s manipulation of his image as being too powerful to be ousted with the way Adolf Hitler portrayed himself in Germany during the 1930s once the Nazi leader had risen to power. The main difference, he pointed out, is that Putin has nuclear weapons.

Kasparov, who became the world’s youngest chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22, joked with the audience that he was very upset to hear that Putin is a good chess player. “Chess is not a game for dictators. Chess is transparent…dictators play different games because everything they do is covered in secrecy; it’s clandestine,” he said. “Putin’s game is poker,” Kasparov explained noting that President Barack Obama had been dealt a full house–“and he flushed it down the toilet.”

Kasparov gave a brief but thorough history of Russia’s transition from Boris Yeltsin to his former K.G.B. agent successor, who rose to the ranks with the help of what he described as a feckless West. Kasparov then went on to chart the sad decline of Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Under Putin today, Kasparov said, Russia is far worse off, despite the deceptive perception that he is well-liked by his constituents. “Even the people who are supportive of the regime understand that it will not get better,” he said. “Many of us in the Soviet Union confuse the ballot box with the ATM,” Kasparov lamented.

In his book, Kasparov says that the free world should establish a “global Magna Carta” that unites all democracies in the fight against dictators throughout the world, and emphasizes the importance of developing energy substitutes for Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil imports, which he connected to the conflict in the Middle East.

Regarding Putin’s alliance with Iran, Kasparov explained that for both these nations, a “war in the Middle East is an absolute must [being] oil prices are at a critical low [and] they are going down to $40 a barrel.” Russia’s crippling economy would likely require oil to be around $100 a barrel in order to help it prop itself up again, he said. Kasparov added that “the moment you have Putin and the Iranians inside, the war will not stop.”

He noted that “in order for [Putin] to stay in power, he needs to create enemies… and he has to sell conflicts. Selling conflicts makes you indispensable, because who else can protect the county?” When Putin appears weak, he uses foreign aggression to demonstrate that he’s strong. Kasparaov also noted that the Soviet Union’s military was far more powerful than Putin’s military is today. Still, regarding a tangible confrontation with the West, Kasparov suggested “war with Russia is definitely not a very productive idea.”

Debunking a common and “false” myth created by liberals, which suggests the world must choose between appeasement and war, Kasparov said “between appeasement and war there is a very large territory called leadership.” He noted that “the problem is, in the next 40 months, I don’t expect any adequate leadership from the western world,” hinting at Obama.

He said the United States, acting alone, without allies in European countries, “can create major, major problems for the Russian economy,” and specifically that more damage could be done from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) than from the White House through the manipulation of oil prices–a factor that would prove to be further damning to Putin’s reign.

As for the question of whether Putin is an ally with regard to the fight against the Islamic State, Kasparov said it is a “troublesome” argument to make. Just because we dealt with Stalin, it is not OK to deal with Putin, he said.

He explained that while “in [Boris] Yeltsin’s Russia, corruption was a problem, in Putin’s Russia corruption is a system.”

Kasparov noted that any future transition would be a long one: “For every day Putin stays in power, it makes the chances for transition less and less realistic.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.


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