Maybe opposition politician Garry Kasparov has been listening to La Russophobe! Or maybe he just got tired of being grabbed by “President” Putin’s “police.” Either way, according to Radio Free Europe he’s finally crossed the Rubicon, openly likening the Kremlin to Zimbabwe (Illarionov’s analogy) and Belarus (it’s a disgrace that the international press is not covering this important development more widely). At the same time, Kasparov still has a ways to go before he has real credibility. He must do more to lay out the vices of the Kremlin in language people can understand and remember, and he must do more to distance himself from his Western connections. It’s encouraging to see that the Kremlin didn’t have the guts to confront and arrest the protesters on the streets when the heads of EU states were right there watching. Typical Kremlin cowardice.
Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has compared the government of President Vladimir Putin to the dictatorships in Belarus and Zimbabwe, according to RFE/RL’s Russian Service. Kasparov said that while Russia might be closer to the European Union than to Africa, politically it resembles the dictatorship of Zimbabwe more than the democracies of Germany or France. The former world chess champion and leader of the Other Russia opposition grouping made his comment to Reuters after he and other anti-Kremlin activists were prevented from attending an opposition demonstration on May 18 in Samara, the site of an EU-Russia summit.
Anti-Kremlin protests proceeded elsewhere in Russia, however. “The space for freedom is shrinking every day in Russia, and we can talk today about not only a police state but virtually about the regime that is [closer] to [Belarus] or Zimbabwe…than to democratic countries from Europe,” Kasparov said.
When Kasparov and fellow activists tried to check in to their flight, they were told that the computer system did not recognize their tickets. Kasparov, interviewed at the time by RFE/RL, explained what happened: “We were not allowed to fly out. Most [of the group members] had their passports and tickets taken away. This continued for almost five hours, and there was no explanation given for the first two hours. After that, they said they were gathering information about the tickets because supposedly 13 passengers [from the group] — including correspondents from the American ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and the British ‘The Daily Telegraph,’ by the way — [possessed] forged tickets.”
Reports say some 200 protesters took part anyway in the “March of Dissent” rally in Samara. And on May 19, anti-Kremlin rallies continued in the city of Chelyabinsk, about 2,100 kilometers east of the capital, Moscow. More than 100 demonstrators protested what they call President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policies. In the past, such marches have been forcefully broken up by police in other cities. But one of the organizers of the Chelyabinsk March of Dissent, Oleg Stifonov, told RFE/RL the rally proceeded peacefully. “Some 150 people took part in the event,” Stifonov said. “The slogans were standard for all Marches of Dissent — demands for the resignation of President Putin and other social slogans. The police behaved absolutely correctly.” The Kremlin says it does not see Other Russia as a political threat, but accuses it of seeking to destabilize Russia ahead of the next scheduled presidential election, in March 2008.
Kasparov was briefly detained after a protest rally in Moscow last month. He says the opposition is gearing up for at least three major demonstrations in the coming weeks. “I think that Other Russia should be very much satisfied, because the marches will go on,” Kasparov said. “We do not stop; we believe that this form of organizing mass protests worked very effectively and we are going to continue. We will have three more marches within the next three weeks in Voronezh and then a big event in St. Petersburg on June 9, and in Moscow on June 11.”
Meanwhile, amid rising concerns over Russian government interference in the media, reports today say eight journalists have resigned from the Russian News Service to protest a new policy that requires half their news to portray the government in a “positive light.” The resignations began in April after new management was hired and the new policy was introduced. Mikhail Baklanov, who was fired as editor in chief at the news service in April, said people left because “there was no chance to work professionally.” The Russian News Service provides news broadcasts to Russia’s most popular radio network and millions of listeners.
More from the Telegraph:
Garry Kasparov yesterday called on Europe to face up to the fact that Russia is an authoritarian regime, not a democracy. The chess champion turned activist was prevented from staging a protest as EU leaders met with President Vladimir Putin. “They should be honest,” he told The Daily Telegraph at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. “Russia is not a democratic regime, it is an authoritarian regime. Putin is not a democrat, they should recognise this. “Giving him credentials as a democrat is very damaging for the opposition. Every time they do this it allows him to dismiss us as marginals and extremists.”
As EU leaders met for the second day of a summit with Mr Putin in Samara, a city in the Urals, Mr Kasparov and 26 activists and western reporters were detained in Moscow after allegations that their tickets were forged meant they missed their flight. The group, including this correspondent, were told their seats had either been overlooked or their tickets could not be recognised by Aeroflot’s computers. They were questioned by police, who confiscated their passports. Members of the pro-Kremlin youth wing Nashi, dressed in white coats and presenting themselves as medical orderlies, handed out leaflets suggesting that Mr Kasparov was deranged. After more than five hours – minutes after the last flight to Samara had departed – the group was released. A police official at the airport reportedly blamed a computer problem that meant Mr Kasparov and his companions could not be issued with a ticket. “If this doesn’t convince you we live in a police state, nothing will,” Mr Kasparov said. “In these cases, laughing is the only thing left to us. You either have to laugh or cry.”
He had been planning to stage a protest rally in Samara to draw attention to Mr Putin’s increasingly repressive crackdown on dissent. Last month, Mr Kasparov was arrested for “shouting anti-government slogans” during a rally held by The Other Russia movement, an opposition he was instrumental in creating. Previous demonstrations in the past six months had not gone well. Banned by the authorities, riot police violently broke them up, kicking and beating with batons any peaceful protesters who had dared to gather. The Samara demonstration, too, was initially outlawed but the Kremlin reversed the decision under intense pressure from its European Union guests. For Mr Kasparov, who retired from chess in 2005 to devote himself to Russia’s fading pro-democracy crusade, the rally was a crucial opportunity to tell western leaders how to deal with Russia. But it was clearly a message the Kremlin preferred to silence.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said at a post-summit news conference: “All of those who want to stage a rally in Samara should be able to do so. “I can understand if you arrest people that are throwing stones or threaten the right of the state to enforce order . . . But it is altogether a different thing if you hold people up on the way to a demonstration.”
Mr Putin said the actions of Russian police “were not always justified”. But, becoming visibly riled, he hit back, saying Mr Kasparov and his colleagues were “marginals” and that EU countries also had flaws in their democracies. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, played down the incident. “I don’t think the issue of the non-arrival of a Russian citizen, even a famous one, will be on the summit agenda,” he said. The summit had been called amid ambitions for deeper ties between Russia and the EU. But there was no breakthrough on a partnership agreement. Talks are stalled because of a Polish veto, part of a trade row with Russia. Moscow had hoped the EU leadership would persuade Poland – as well as Estonia and Lithuania, which have their own rows with Russia – to moderate their stances. Poland blocked the talks after Russia imposed a ban on imports of Polish meat. Moscow has accused Estonia of desecrating the memory of Second World War victims after it moved a Soviet-era war memorial. Lithuania is unhappy that Russia has switched off an oil pipeline. José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, made clear the EU was squarely behind its members. “We had occasion to say to our Russian partners that a difficulty for a member state is a difficulty for the whole European community,” he said.