Category Archives: kasparov

Kasparov to U.S. Congress: Medvedev is Bait for a Trap


Other Russia reports on Garry Kasparov’s recent testimony before the U.S. Congress (click here to watch a YouTube of his Q&A session afterwards):

On June 17, United Civil Front leader and Solidarity co-leader Garry Kasparov testified before the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs about the grave state of Russia’s political, judicial, and economic systems. Touching on issues ranging from rampant corruption that has exploded on an exponential scale to the perpetration of terrorist acts in occupied Georgian territory, not to mention the overall lack of freedom of speech or free elections and an endless list of other civil rights violations in the country, Kasparov called on congressional leaders to take a stand and stop treating Vladimir Putin and other corrupt Russian officials as members of an actual democracy in economic and diplomatic affairs.

A full transcript of the speech is printed below. The listed appendices were submitted to the committee along with Kasparov’s testimony.

My thanks to the Committee and to Chairman Ros-Lehtinen for permitting me to testify here today. My name is Garry Kasparov. I was born in the Soviet Union in 1963 and currently live in Moscow. Until my retirement in 2005, I represented first the USSR and then Russia as the world chess champion. After I left the sport, I joined the pro-democracy movement in my country, motivated by the disturbing course change away from freedom that Russia was undergoing under President Vladimir Putin. I could not accept that my own children would grow up in a totalitarian state as I had. And to those who have suggested that I should leave Russia for my family’s convenience and safety, I say that it is my country, one I proudly represented around the world for decades, and so let the KGB leave, not me.

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Where is Kasparov?

Standpoint reports:

Garry Kasparov grew up knowing that coming second was not good enough. This will to win was one of the crucial factors behind the 22-year-old Soviet chess player becoming the youngest-ever World Chess Champion in 1985. He retained his title for 15 years. The ambitious, outspoken youth was seen by the West as the new face of Russian chess — and, more importantly, of the country that was ready for the first time in 70 years to say good-bye to communism and start moving towards democracy. The Cold War, both on and off the chessboard, was over. Kasparov and his fellow players no longer had to be part of it and could concentrate on the game in which they excelled.

Or so it seemed in the heady days when Gorbachev’s reforms awoke a sense of elation in many. That was not to last long. Immediately after retiring from professional chess, Kasparov returned to action — this time on a political battleground. He formed the United Civil Front, a pro-democracy movement, and took an active part in creating The Other Russia, an anti-Putin coalition. After Kasparov’s plans to stand as a candidate for the 2008 Russian presidential race were disrupted — no one was willing to rent him a hall large enough to hold his supporters so he wasn’t allowed to be a candidate — he remained the leader of the UCF, organising an online “Putin must go” campaign.

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PHOTO: Vladimir Putin’s worst Nightmare!

Source:  Oleg Panfilov on Facebook.

Kasparov calls Europe to Arms on Russia

Garry Kasparov, writing in The Guardian  with the endorsement of a host of Russian human rights activists (the article has drawn more than 100 comments):

In the capitals of European democracies, leaders are hailing a new era of co-operation with Russia. Berlin claims a “special relationship” with Moscow and is moving forward on a series of major energy projects with Russian energy giant Gazprom, one of which is led by the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi traveled to St Petersburg late last year to join in the celebration of his “great friend” Vladimir Putin’s 59th birthday. And in Paris, negotiations are under way for a major arms sale that would allow Russia to acquire one of the most advanced ships in the French navy.

At the same time, democratic dissent inside Russia has been ruthlessly suppressed. On 31 January, the Russian government refused to allow the peaceful assembly of citizens who demonstrated in support of … the right to free assembly, enshrined in article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: the right “to gather peacefully and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”.

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EDITORIAL: Kasparov lets Obama have It


Kasparov lets Obama have It

At last, a leader of the Russian opposition — Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal — has openly declared what everyone has known for months now, that U.S. President Barack Obama is coward and a traitor to the democratic cause.

Kasparov writes:

The first meeting of the loftily named U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group took place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. Russian presidential first deputy Vladislav Surkov is the group’s co-chair—despite a letter of protest signed by 71 GOP members of the U.S. Congress pointing out that Mr. Surkov is “one of the masterminds behind Russia’s authoritarian course.”  The letter urged President Obama (in vain, as it turned out) to boycott the meetings until Mr. Surkov was replaced, perhaps by someone who hasn’t spent his career actively destroying the sort of civil society this working group is intended to promote.

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Kasparov on Russia and Europe

The Other Russia translates an interview from Yezhedevny Zhurnal with Garry Kasparov:

The idea of European integration set out by opposition leader Garry Kasparov in a recent interview with Yezhednevny Zhurnal was met by an overwhelmingly positive reaction from its readers. Seeing the idea as a genuine and strategic alternative to current Russian foreign policy, many were left wondering if such integration could realistically be achieved.

Therefore, Yezhednevny Zhurnal sat down with Kasparov for another interview, in order to extend the discussion of why European integration is necessary for Russia and how current political posturing on economic and political reforms will inevitably come to naught.

Garry Kimovich, in your opinion, do the nationalist and leftist wings of the National Assembly support the idea of European integration?

The strategic vector of Russia’s future development is, of course, a question for national discussion. At a time when a new global consensus is developing, Russia’s own interests force it to determine who its strategic partners are. It is possible that, as before, part of the left will look towards China. They think that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will implement the correct scenario for the country’s development.

However, in my opinion, if Russia focuses so recklessly on the East, it will inevitably cause our country to lose geopolitical subjectivity. Nothing will come of Russia’s own role, most likely becoming a purely raw-exports role for its active eastern neighbor. China is a very strong player, constantly driving economic expansion. By steadily expanding the limits of its influence, it has already established hegemony over practically the entire Asian expanse.

It is possible that there are some nationalists who, believing in Russia’s divine destiny, will say: “But we don’t need anyone – we’ll handle it ourselves.” I think that all of these utopian theories will come to be rejected as a result of discussion. I do not doubt that in the end, both the nationalists and the leftists will choose the vector of European integration.

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Kasparov in Yezhe

Olga Gulenok of Yezhedevny Zhurnal interviews Garry Kasparov, as translated by The Other Russia.

The Russian National Assembly, a gathering of political and social forces dedicated to democracy in Russia, recently held its second conference on the future organization of the country, “Russia After Putin.” A series of articles of the same name were published by National Assembly bureau member, United Civil Front leader, and Solidarity co-leader Garry Kasparov.

The thoughts and proposals laid out in these articles elicited a stormy reaction from within the internet community. In an interview with Yezhednevny Zhurnal on November 23 to further explain his positions, Kasparov discussed the goals of Russia’s united political opposition, the importance of Russia’s integration into Europe, and the futility of Medvedev’s plans for modernization.

Garry Kimovich, in your opinion, how successful overall has the opposition been in moving forward in the development of its “way of the future,” given that it has been criticized for lacking one?

The National Assembly is an arena that was created for different ideological forces, united by a rejection of the current system, to discuss an agenda for the future of our country. The inability of the governing regime to make changes adequate for the demands of the 21st century has imposed this necessity upon us. Preserving the status quo has lead to the ruin of our state. An understanding of the doom of this regime and of these other menaces – which invariably lead to an uncontrolled collapse through our rotten government agencies – formed the basis for the unification of the opposition.

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EDITORIAL: Putin is our Hitler and Obama is our Chamberlain


Putin is our Hitler and Obama is our Chamberlain

“Nothing matters more to Mr. Putin and his oligarchs than the price of oil. Even with oil at $70 a barrel, Russia’s economy is in bad straits. Tension in the Middle East, even an outbreak of war, would push energy prices higher. A nuclear-armed Iran would, of course, be harmful to Russian national security, but prolonging the crisis is beneficial to the interests of the ruling elite: making money and staying in power.”

Garry Kasparov, The Wall Street Journal, 10/18/09

Quite possibly, the single most important point that we in the West need to understand about neo-Soviet Russia under proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin is that the country benefits tremendously from instability, terror and war in the Middle East.  Those who would suggest that Russia fears a nuclear-armed Islamic dictatorship in Iran simply do not appreciate how utterly dependent the neo-Soviet state always has been on the price of crude oil, or how much tension in the Middle East works to Russia’s advantage in making oil markets nervous and driving up the price.

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Kasparov and the New Cold War

The Times of London on the new and old cold wars, viewed through the prism of chess:

In 1984, the Orwellian year in which Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov first sat down to play, chess was as Russian as vodka. The rematch that began this week in Spain marks the resumption of a duel between two names as evocative of Russia as Stolichnaya. But why should anyone who is neither a chess buff nor a Russophile still raise a glass to these old rivals?

I can think of at least three reasons: the symbolic role of chess in the Cold War; the equally symbolic role of the Kasparov-Karpov matches in the demise of the Soviet Union; and Kasparov’s present role as de facto leader of the opposition to the Putin-Medvedev regime in Russia.

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Kasparov on the Sochi Charade

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Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

It has become fashionable to speak of change and liberalization in Russia under President Dmitry Medvedev. May 7 marked his one-year anniversary in office. He has recently granted an interview with an opposition newspaper, allowed a few human-rights activists to criticize Russia’s regime, and even started a blog. There is also a new administration in Washington that wants a fresh start with foreign powers.

However, Mr. Medvedev’s gestures have not been matched by policy. It is more appropriate to think of Russia as living under Vladimir Putin’s ninth year in power. Mr. Putin is now prime minister but still in charge. His agenda of oppression and plunder is still the course in Russia. The Kremlin’s willingness to install its candidates in office and persecute its opponents remains undiminished.

Last month, the Putin government inserted itself into the mayoral election in Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea that has been selected to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

{Click the link to read the rest of Kasparov’s condemnation of the IOC’s decision to vest Sochi with the games}

Kasparov on Russian Mahem in the Middle East

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Those looking for a bright side in the global economic meltdown are fond of invoking the old line about finding opportunity in a crisis. But also keep in mind that there are those who will incite a new crisis to escape or distract from the current one. This is the scenario looming in Russia as the Kremlin faces increasing pressure on multiple fronts.

Russia and its fellow petrodictatorships are in dire need of a way to ratchet up global tensions to inflate the sagging price of oil. Petrodictators, after all, need petrodollars to stay in power. The war in Gaza and the otherwise inexplicable skirmish with Ukraine over natural gas have helped the Kremlin in this regard, but $50 a barrel isn’t going to be nearly enough. It will have to reach at least $100 and it will have to happen soon.

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More Arrests of Peaceful Protesters in Putin’s Neo-Soviet Russia

Over the weekend, Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov convened the first meeting of their new “Solidarity” movement. Then Kasparov tried to organize protest marches through Moscow and St. Petersburg to support the new organization. Here’s what happened next, according to the BBC:

Police have prevented two marches by anti-government demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg, detaining at least 100 protesters.

Police trucks ringed two Moscow squares where protesters were to gather, and officers arrested dozens of people. In St Petersburg, police blocked 100 protesters from marching on the city’s main thoroughfare, arresting 10 people. The protests were the latest organised by former chess champion Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia movement. Other Russia has tried to stage several protests it calls dissenters’ marches. Among those arrested on Sunday was Mr Kasparov’s fellow leader, Eduard Limonov.

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Kasparov Challenges Obama

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Even as Barack Obama faces front-page issues like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, he will still have to find the time and courage to deal with a certain nuclear-armed autocracy that controls much of the world’s oil and gas.

How should Mr. Obama deal with Russia’s official president, Dmitry Medvedev, and Russia’s real leader, Vladimir Putin? The choice is straightforward: Mr. Obama can treat them like fellow democratic leaders or like the would-be dictators that they are. His decision will tell the world a great deal about how seriously he takes his promises of change.

The Kremlin is very eager to be accepted as an equal. It apparently hopes that Mr. Obama will send the signal that democracy in Russia doesn’t matter, that the Kremlin’s crushing of the opposition and free speech is irrelevant, and that annexing pieces of neighboring Georgia is a local issue and not an international one.

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EDITORIAL: Kasparov as the New Yavlinsky


Kasparov as the New Yavlinksy

The New Yavlinsky

The New Yavlinsky

Grigori Yavlinsky, who undoubtedly has a good heart and an able intellect, will nonetheless go down in history as one of the most harmful Russians who ever lived.  A classic “white moderate” as defined by Martin Luther King, as such more dangerous to African Americans than the KKK, Yavlinsky’s pathetic performance as leader of the Yabloko party in the Yeltsin days sucked all the oxygen out of the democracy movement, depriving it of the opportunity to gain critical mass and contend for power. 

We loathe Yavlinsky, perhaps more than Vladmir Putin himself. After all, Putin never promised us a rose garden.

Thankfully, Yavlinsky has passed from the scene into well-deserved obscurity.  But it seems that Garry Kasparov is eager to fill his shoes with more cold feet.  Kasparov has repeatedly disappointed us with his failure to take significant direct action to challenge the Kremlin (or to step aside and support someone else willing to do so).  His craven withdrawal from the presidential election was a low moment in a very meager political career. At least in the past Kasparov did do one thing Yavlinsky never could: Give good op-ed in the Western media.  But now it seems, that too has gone the way of all things.

Writing in The Australian recently, Kasparov stated that Barack Obama, if elected President of the U.S.,

could get off to a good start by making it clear he does not consider the people of Russia to be the enemy of the US. As in most authoritarian states, the Putin regime does not represent most of its citizens. Kremlin propaganda works hard to present the US as Russia’s adversary. Obama could strike a blow against that image by speaking out against dictatorial leaders in Russia and across the world.

Kasparov could not be more mistaken or unhelpful.  The Russian people are the enemies of the U.S., and of all people who love freedom and democracy and peace and prosperity, and they must be told so — often and loudly — for the very reason that the Putin regime precisely represents a majority of them.

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Kasparov on Obama

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Berlin is an ideal place for an American president, even a would-be president, to speak to the world about freedom and shared values. Barack Obama’s recent visit evoked the famous speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that defended the U.S. stance against the Soviet Union and tyranny in Eastern Europe. Both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are now gone, but dangerous, nuclear-armed dictatorships are not. Sadly, Mr. Obama declined to mention this in Berlin.

The stage for his disappointing performance was set several weeks ago, when the Illinois senator rejected John McCain’s proposal to eject Russia and exclude China from the Group of Eight (G-8). Mr. Obama’s response during a July 13 interview on CNN — “We have to engage and get them involved” — suggests that it is impossible to work with Russia and China on economic and nuclear nonproliferation issues while also standing up for democracy and human rights.

It has repeatedly been shown that the exact opposite is true.

The U.S. does not cede leverage with authoritarian governments when it confronts them about their crimes. Instead, the U.S. increases its credibility and influence with foes and friends alike. Placating regimes like those in Russia and China today only entrenches hostile, antidemocratic forces.

Commercial agreements, arms control and other mutually beneficial projects can be pursued without endorsing dictatorship. During the same interview, Sen. Obama spoke of enlisting China to help write the “international rules of the road.” This is the same logic that led the United Nations to place China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia on its current Human Rights Council. Do we really want to live under rules created with the approval of such regimes?

While Mr. Obama talked about the importance of receiving Russia’s help in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported that Tehran is acquiring advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles from the Kremlin. This is the cooperation the West has earned by including Russia in the G-8.

In Berlin, Mr. Obama repeatedly mentioned the 1948 Berlin airlift. On CNN, he said he would like to “bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan.” A strange statement, since President Harry Truman fought against giving up an inch to the communists on any front around the world. Not only did Truman save West Berlin; South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe also have much to thank him for. By contrast, in their July 9 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Obama advisers Madeleine Albright and William Perry, secretaries of state and defense under Bill Clinton, criticized Sen. McCain’s proposal to respond to major powers’ human-rights abuses with more than lip service.

Mr. Obama also asked if the West would stand up for “the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe.” Commendable, but what about the political prisoner in China and the recently convicted blogger in Russia? Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev both came to power in blatantly fraudulent elections. The hypocrisy of condemning one while embracing the other destroys American and European credibility, and undermines any attempt at global leadership. Those of us living behind the Iron Curtain at the time were grateful Ronald Reagan did not go to Berlin in 1987 to denounce the lack of freedom in, say, Angola.

In short, the candidate of change sounds like he would perpetuate the destructive double standards of the current administration. Meanwhile, the supposedly hidebound Mr. McCain is imaginative enough to suggest that if something is broken you should try to fix it. Giving Russia and China a free pass on human rights to keep them “at the table” has helped lead to more arms and nuclear aid to Iran, a nuclear North Korea, and interference from both nations in solving the tragedies in Darfur and Zimbabwe.

Would all of this have occurred had the U.S. and Europe threatened meaningful reprisals? At least Mr. McCain wants to find out.

Reagan’s Berlin speech is remembered for his command: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But he also made a critical point about negotiating from strength, a point Mr. Obama seems to be missing. Reagan knew that if the U.S. backed down on the Strategic Defense Initiative, his speech would just be pretty words the Soviets would ignore.

Reagan avoided the mistake John F. Kennedy made when he met with Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, Kennedy was weak in Khrushchev’s eyes and keen to make a deal, and the Soviet premier bullied him mercilessly in Vienna. The Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis were soon to follow.

Today, instead of communists there are deal-making capitalists and nationalists running the Kremlin and China’s National People’s Congress. They, and blowhards like Hugo Chávez, hardly represent the existential threats faced by Truman, Kennedy and Reagan. Yet Mr. Obama still is reticent to confront them, saying in Berlin that “we must reject the Cold War mindset of the past and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must.” But the Cold War ended and democracy became the global standard not because Western leaders merely defended their values, but because they projected them aggressively.

On Sept. 11, 150 years ago, another Illinois politician to run for president, Abraham Lincoln, said: “Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.” Not where it’s convenient. Not in countries lacking large energy reserves. Everywhere, Mr. Obama, everywhere.

Kasparov Slams Kissinger

Say what you like about Garry Kasparov, he gives good op-ed. Viz, the Financial Times:

Recently we have witnessed a flurry of high-profile and contradictory statements on the Russian state. In a role reversal, Russia’s leaders have been abnormally candid while several prominent western politicians and pundits have lavished undeserved praise.

Russian president Dmitri Medvedev was bold enough last week to state that democracy is irrelevant to the Group of Eight leading nations. It is sad to see that some of Europe’s leaders seem to agree with him. He also accidentally told the truth by saying that while political competition could be a good thing, it must be “competition correctly built”, a phrase of which George Orwell would have been proud.

Despite broad acknowledgement that our March presidential elections were neither free nor fair, Terry Davis, the Council of Europe secretary-general, recently expressed his admiration for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Medvedev. His comments about “growth” and “progress” make it clear that, to the council, the importance of liberty and democracy in Russia is inversely correlated to the prices of oil and gas. Such behaviour helps legitimise fraudulent elections and the dictatorial regime that runs them.

It is a pity for Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe does not enjoy a surplus of oil and natural gas. Without those assets his election victory is denounced as a sham and nations around the world call for him to be ousted. At this week’s G8 summit, George W. Bush, US president, denounced Mr Mugabe while sitting next to Mr Medvedev, whose hold on power is similarly counterfeit. The Russian security services’ methods are more subtle than machetes but our democracy is no more real than Zimbabwe’s. The European fantasy appears to be that oil revenue and designer boutiques will magically turn Russia into a real democracy. Oil wealth is nearly always a curse on human rights, not a blessing. Louis Vuitton and Cartier are not going to do the job that the so-called leaders of the free world have abdicated.

In a recent opinion article, Henry Kissinger asked that the US “give Russia some space”. Space to create a new class of political prisoners, to loot the country, to bully our neighbours? Is that what brought down the Berlin Wall and ended the cold war? Is it only my dictionary that fails to distinguish between “appeasement” and Mr Kissinger’s use of the word “engagement”?

After eight years of being given plenty of space, Mr Putin and his team of well-trained oligarchs have assembled an efficient machine to move the wealth from every corner of Russia into private hands. While I hope and believe that the people of Russia are capable of standing up for our rights, it is unhelpful to our cause when the west provides the Putin regime with democratic credentials or acts as though democracy is, to use Mr Medvedev’s word, irrelevant.

Instead of listening to those who are eager to stay in the good graces of the Kremlin, listen to Russia’s leaders after eight years of Mr Putin’s total control, years in which the price of oil rose 700 per cent. They speak with the candour of impunity. Mr Medvedev has said the biggest problems facing Russia are “endemic corruption and a dysfunctional legal system”. Just days ago finance minister Alexei Kudrin shared the thought that “a growth spurt in the economy of central Russia would lead to the collapse of the railway and transportation infrastructure”. These statements do not come from opposition “extremists” such as myself. (“Extremist” being the tried-and-true label of choice for anyone who disagrees with the regime.)

One glance at the headlines is enough to separate western fantasies from Russian reality. Savva Terentiev, a musician from Syktyvkar, 1,500 km north of Moscow, just received a one-year suspended sentence for a sarcastic blog post criticising the local police. The Russian security matrix is moving into the virtual world.

Or take this note about our vaunted new middle class. An EU-Russia Centre survey has found that 50 per cent of Russia’s best-educated and most prosperous citizens would emigrate if they could. The top reasons were instability and danger from law enforcement. Some 83 per cent said they did not believe they had the ability to influence the political direction of the country. It seems I am not the only one who would like to live in the Russia of which Mr Davis and Mr Kissinger speak so fondly. It is a shame it does not exist.

How Putin Muzzled the Russian Press

Garry Kasparov writing in the Wall Street Journal:

“How come I am still alive? When I really think about it, it’s a miracle.” Several years back so spoke Anna Politkovskaya, the late Russian investigative journalist who for years fearlessly explored the depths of war-ravaged Chechnya.

She is now the subject of the documentary “Letter to Anna” by Swiss director Eric Bergkraut. The film premiered in the U.S. last night at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York. Politkovskaya reported conversations with families ripped apart by war. She was also the voice of Russian soldiers who were ashamed of the atrocities committed in their country’s name. Her work made her the enemy of many powerful people, and on Oct. 7, 2006, the 48-year-old was gunned down in the foyer of her apartment building.

In May, Dmitry Medvedev took Vladimir Putin’s chair, if not his power. At the World Russian Press Congress in Moscow on June 11, Mr. Medvedev pledged to “support media freedom.” But the picture remains bleak.

Mr. Medvedev recently touted the need for a “Cyrillic Internet” and criticized the closing of Russian-language media enterprises in former Soviet states where local languages are reasserting themselves after Soviet-era restrictions. He also lauded the quality of Russian television, even as Kremlin paranoia about what appears on TV has reached new heights.

Vladimir Posner, president of the Russian Academy of Television, recently confessed that he submits a list of desired guests on his show to Channel One management, who then lets him know whom he can and cannot invite. Political analyst Mikhail Delyagin criticized Mr. Putin on the air and was digitally deleted from a talk show.

The Kremlin’s subjugation of the Russian press has been, along with a rise in oil prices of over 700%, key to the perceived success of the Putin regime. Mr. Putin learned the importance of controlling the mass media early on. In 2000, faced with a public outcry over the botched rescue of the crew of the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank during a training exercise in the Barents Sea, he went after the press.

Media outlets have been taken over by forces friendly to Mr. Putin and his closest associates. This “soft censorship” is accompanied by the more conventional kind, such as lists of verboten topics for television, where a vast majority of Russians get their news.

It wasn’t always this way. The corruption of the Boris Yeltsin era is burned into Russia’s collective memory only because the press reported it at the time. In the 1990s, competing oligarchs waged war against one another in their media outlets. It was not a fight fought fairly or decently, but many facts came to light as thousands of honest journalists worked to bring the truth to the Russian public.

The elite circle of oligarchs surrounding Mr. Putin have much greater power and riches than did Yeltsin’s entourage. They dominate the media, and thus very little is known about how they amassed their fortunes. In 2000, there were no Russians on the Forbes magazine list of the world’s billionaires. By 2005 there were 36.

Today there are 87, more than Germany and Japan combined, in a country where 13% of our citizens live under the national poverty line of $150 a month. This massive concentration of wealth is mirrored in the Russian stock market. In 2007, the top 10 listed companies accounted for 68.5% of the primary Russian bourse. Gazprom alone represented over 27%.

The Western press has helped paint a rosy picture of the business environment in Russia. But consider the travails of British Petroleum. BP owns half of TNK-BP, with the other 50% owned by wealthy Russians. BP thought it was playing the game correctly by colluding with members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. Now a boardroom battle is pitting BP against its oligarch partners, who do not hesitate to bring state power to the fight.

Western fantasies about Russia’s situation don’t serve anyone in the long run, least of all the Russian people. The Politkovskaya documentary will hopefully help bring attention to the reality of censorship and corruption in Russia. At the film’s appearance in Prague last March, former Czech President Václav Havel stated, “It would be good if many people could see this film. Especially politicians who kiss and embrace Russian politicians, almost dizzy with the smell of oil and gas.”

Kasparov on Kozlovsky

Though Garry Kasparov may have outlived his usefulness as a real-world political leader on the ground in Russia, nobody can doubt that he writes a mean newspaper column in English. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, he gets Oleg Kozlovsky once again into a major world newspaper, and delivers a ringing condemnation of Russia’s new “president”:

Dmitry Medvedev was sworn in Wednesday as the president of Russia. Many reports have stated that this is his first elected office, an ignorant portrayal at best. The March 2 presidential election was widely recognized as a fraudulent charade. The presidency was assigned to Medvedev, in the same way he gained his previous titles — as outgoing President Vladimir V. Putin’s campaign manager, chief of staff and deputy prime minister. After the ceremony, Medvedev returned the favor and made Putin prime minister.

Putin has balked when asked if he would follow the tradition of government officials hanging the sitting president’s portrait in their offices. But the joke going around is that he will indeed have one: a portrait of Medvedev in the president’s office looking at a portrait of Putin.

According to the Russian Constitution, Medvedev is now in charge. But until there is evidence of his independence and authority, it is safe to assume that Medvedev still needs Putin’s permission to use the Kremlin lavatory. The real “smooth transition of power” was moving Putin from the presidency to prime minister.

We can expect a few proclamations and perhaps even token policy changes. Unfortunately, the early signs show that Medvedev’s statement about developing civil freedoms and ending “legal nihilism” were only a show for the West. Such displays are needed to offset elections with the results known in advance, lack of media freedom and businessgrowth that only benefits Kremlin loyalists. Otherwise, Putin’s gang of oligarchs might lose easy access to billions in looted assets held in the West. So far, though, as Putin learned over the last eight years, there is no such danger. Russia pretends to be a democracy, and the United States and the European Union pretend to believe Russia is a democracy.

That morally repugnant pact is not working so well for those of us fighting for real democracy here. The day before Medvedev took power, several dozen people were arrested simply for being in the general area of a planned rally that had already been canceled. The police had promised that no one would be detained if the rally was called off; apparently they did not receive Medvedev’s message about civil freedoms in time.

Oleg Kozlovsky, a member of the Other Russia opposition coalition leadership, was given 13 days in prison. Arrest reports for him came from two officers, each giving a different time and place of arrest. According to the judge, this curious fact “was not related to the case.” A photojournalist working for the Russian paper Izvestia was sentenced to six days in prison for trying to do his job.

It is essential to resist the temptation to give this new/old Kremlin regime the benefit of the doubt. Let us not pretend Medvedev was truly elected or that we know anything about him. Far more is known about Barack Obama’s former pastor. Medvedev is tainted from the start by his membership in Putin’s dictatorial Kremlin regime. Action, not words, will establish whether he is his own man.

For that action to be meaningful, Medvedev must give immediate attention to these issues: He must free the long list of political prisoners who were jailed as Putin developed his dictatorship by KGB cronyism. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other members of the Yukos Oil Co. management are the most prominent names, but there are also scientists convicted on spurious espionage charges and activists whose only crime was speaking out against the Kremlin. And the new president must act against the wave of hate crimes that have claimed 40 lives this year, mostly immigrants or nonwhite Russians. Homicidal neo-Nazi gangs roam the streets while pro-democracy marchers are locked up.

The basic human right of thinking and speaking one’s mind has been drastically curtailed in Russia over the last eight years. The real test of Medvedev’s presidency will be the way in which he deals with his most vocal critics. Other Russia is planning to hold a national assembly on May 17 in Moscow to facilitate dialogue on the most relevant problems and to determine a national agenda by bringing together representatives of diverse social forces, including those with opposite interests. We will also continue our street protests across Russia.

Will our activists still be harassed and detained for handing out pamphlets? Will our people still be followed by the security services? Will our peaceful actions again be violently dispersed by police? Will we again be denied access to legal counsel after being arrested? Will the courts continue to rubber-stamp our prosecutions? Until we have the answers to those questions, there is no reason to take Medvedev’s word about anything.

Annals of Opposition

Blood on the Rizla reports first-hand observations of the Russian opposition:

Last week, Russia’s fractious and divided political opposition gathered in Moscow and St Petersburg to try to set aside their differences and concentrate on building a united front to restore democracy and raise awareness of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, but it may be too little too late.

The Russian opposition has been in a state of crisis due to its inability to effectively stand up to President Vladimir Putin’s rollback of press and political freedom, let alone even challenge the transition to his hand-picked presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

Today’s opposition is the fractured remnants of what were either political forces in the 1990s, a strange collection of punk-fascist movements associated with youth culture and recent media-focused and vacuous civil rights organizations. It would seem that Russia has regressed from being a country where political disputes were part of everyday life in the 1990s, to a state were being interested in politics is like being interested in monarchy.

The democratic parties there were doubly hit during the build-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections by the regime’s manipulation of the law in order to cut them out of the contest, massive fraud, unfair access to the national media and a country-wide mood that saw their popularity collapse.

Neither the Union of Rights Forces, a right-of-center liberal party, nor the left-leaning Yabloko managed to pass the threshold necessary to gain seats in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The mainstream non-Kremlin-backed democratic candidates were all blocked from participating in the presidential elections. The result is that the parties are in financial meltdown, with serious leadership disputes between the generations building up in Yabloko.

Fractious arguments about whether the party should try and act as a lobbying influence on the government or a government in embryo have led to acrimony between the two major leaders, Grigory Yavlinsky and Ilya Yashin.

In forthcoming elections, short of a financial miracle, it seems unlikely that more than one democratic party will be able compete. Mergers are actively being discussed, but more probable is that one or more will simply fold.

A democratic front?

Garry Kasparov, the renowned chess player, cut a sorry figure standing in the lobby of the Hotel Anglia in St Petersburg. Crowds gathered on the historic St Isaac’s Square outside, but not for him or anyone from the dissident conference. The electronics company Samsung was distributing free balloons to delighted masses of people, while the only group paying any attention to the opposition was a squadron of visibly bored and chain-smoking riot police.

Speaking to ISN Security Watch, Kasparov was defiant, both about the chances of rebuilding Russian democracy and about his own relevance. He insists it is not too late.

“I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. The window of opportunity is open and though time is slowly running out, more and more people are coming round to our point of view.

“Advocating your ideas is not a one way street: It depends on the needs of society. The steady decline of living standards […] is turning a lot of people against the state propaganda machine, when people begin to experience a rise in living standards they will see the necessity of our ideas,” he said.

Kasparov recently entered the minefield of Russian politics. According to his press secretary Ludmilla Mamina, “He entered due to a sense of pressing moral urgency, hoping to apply his grasp of strategy to helping his country. The Other Russia coalition was founded in order to bring in all different kinds of groups under an effective banner.

“Though we have received criticism for bringing in groups such as the National Bolshevik Party [a punk-fascist party] we have strongly moderated their position. We do this because we need another Russia.”

However, Other Russia has received much criticism for being sensationally hostile to the ever-popular Putin, and suffered a serious blow when it was abandoned by Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the small People’s Democratic Union. Kasparov’s aloof and combative style, along with his ties to the West, have not endeared him to the Russian public. He is widely suspected of trying to further his own personal ambitions above all else.

The gatherings of democratic forces in Moscow and St Petersburg at a conference entitled “A New Agenda For Russian Liberal Forces” must be a turning point if the opposition is going to pose a serious challenge to the regime during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.

Riven by personal disputes, theoretical wrangling about policy and financial meltdown, the urgency of establishing a unity coalition to defend human rights and restore free and fair elections is essential if the parties are going to survive the next few years in a meaningful shape.

Kasparov insists that “the mood is optimistic, we are making progress and I’m happy with what we’ve agreed on.”

Denis Bilunov, director of the United Civil Front – the social movement lead by Kasparov – believes that the steps being taken represent a real turning point for Russia.

“The hope is that after these conferences we will be able to establish an alternative parliament for all the forces locked out of the political process. Our estimates are that roughly 15 million people support the opposition, with optimists going as high as 30 million,” he told ISN Security Watch.

“An alternative parliament could convert in time into a real national institution and not a political party. I am actively looking forward to the disputes we will be having and all that they will do to build civil society in this country. More importantly, it represents a historic chance for the Russian left and right to make a bold declaration of faith in democratic principles.”

Ekaterina Vinokurova , a 20-something journalist and press secretary of the Russian Democratic Party, has pessimistic views that reflect much of the attitude of young Russians who have positioned themselves against the regime.

“My position and that of my party is that we either have to liquidate or unite, we urgently need new leaders, new organic party structure and internal democracy within our movements. The simple question is who are these fratricidal leaders, where do they come from and who chose them? These are not the structures that create real democratic parties,” she told ISN Security Watch.

“We have an opportunity that as the generational transition plays itself out, the last cohort of leaders trained in the USSR will be retiring when the new generation reaches the right age to be able to act politically. We are breeding a generation of apathetic, individualistic young people in Russia that feel turned off by the undemocratic structures of current opposition parties and dislike the old fashioned leadership,” she continued.

“If we are to bring people into the fold we need to get involved with all kinds of aspects of the arts, social movements, internet culture as quickly as possible. This is how we can begin playing a long game.”

The long game

Ordinary Russians feel even more disenchanted with the opposition, with frequent accusations that they are out of touch, self-interested intellectuals.

Dmitry Koryakin is a traveling salesman whose opinions capture a vast swathe of the Russian population.

“I want respect, I want it from the foreigners, I want it from the immigrants, I want it from the police. But more importantly I want clean water, cheap food and better services. The ‘democratic parties’ don’t seem to be offering either of those things. Who are these intellectuals anyway who are having their own private argument with the government and claiming the people are behind them? If they want to help they should start coming up with plans for better hospitals then,” he told ISN Security Watch.

Being unable to advertise their views on mainstream nationwide television channels or spread information that is potentially damaging to the government to a citizenry that was almost wholly born and bred in the USSR and in Russia’s disastrous 1990s has left the opposition with only one option, according to Maxim Reznik, head of the St Petersburg branch of the left-leaning democratic party Yabloko.

“We are a political and social movement that concentrates on what we think are the most pressing problems facing us, those being the erosion of human rights and raising awareness of that fact. However, you have to realize that in Russia we have to start by convincing the elite before we can spread our ideas to the population. This is the beginning of a long process for us.”

The assumptions guiding the unity conferences last week were that the regime’s popularity has peaked along with oil prices and that inflation – especially rising food prices and the continued decline in infrastructure – would soon begin to rapidly undermine the Kremlin’s grip on things.

Speaking to opposition activists the mood seemed to be one of confidence that an economic crisis was imminent and even joyfully so.

A source close to Kasparov expressed personal distaste at his insistence that “the worse it gets for the country, the better it gets for us.”

There appears to be little idea of what to do when the awaited economic crisis arrives and none of what should be done if it does not. For now the opposition strategy is focused on building a new front where decisions can be taken in the long term, but at the present moment no common long-term strategy exists.

Seeds of change

Oleg Zykov, a senior lobbyist, president of the Moscow Medical Academy and member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, which monitors parliament and scrutinizes legislation, believes that working toward improving the lives of his fellow countrymen should be done by trying to achieve better governance and social standards aiming to build a civil society and not another political rupture.

In an interview with ISN Security Watch he said the problems lie deeper than the opposition would have us believe.

“Post-totalitarian society is deeply based on its members’ paternalism, when people strongly believe that it is the authorities who should, and even must, solve their problems, which vastly extends functions and powers of government bureaucracy,” he said.

“This is costly and ineffective. A simple change of personalities at the helm, whether they be loyal, pro-Kremlin figures or opposition leaders, will not alter society’s mental pattern. The way to improve this situation is to promote social initiative, being a fundamental basis of civil society, which is now only being developed. Contemporary Russia is facing evolution in understanding the role of social initiative.”

The average Russian tends to lean toward his position. The Other Russia’s plan for an opposition alternative parliament has generated as much laughter as interest while many of the other groups are dismissed as games for rich kids and fantasists.

With support for the regime running so high and the average citizen so fearful of a return to the chaos and social collapse of the 1990s, it seems unlikely that this politically exhausted nation will throw itself into another adventure without serious reasons.

One of the most crucial threats to Russia’s transition to a stable model is the estimated 70,000 neo-Nazi skinheads in the country (and their numbers continually rising) and the fact that all major Kremlin-backed political parties espouse varieties of soft nationalism, with political extremism fuelled by anti-immigration and declining living standards for the poor.

If the country’s democratic potential is to be tapped, time, patience and the ability to compromise and build up real grass-roots support and responsive political party structures is essential. Given these circumstances, the Russian opposition needs to play a long game, at long odds – by making improved awareness, governance and civil society construction its priorities.

Kasparov Challenges Putin to Duel

Writing on Other Russia, Garry Kasparov challenges Vladimir Putin to debate and settle their score. Does Putin have the guts?

First let there be no misunderstanding about what this award is supposed to represent. According to TIME, it is for the person who “has done the most to change the news, for better or for worse.” Obviously Putin has been in the news a great deal in 2007, and it’s clear that the direction he has moved my country has been “for worse” both for Russians and for the international community.

Putin’s regime has crushed dissent, rigged elections, and systematically destroyed democratic institutions and civil liberties, processes that only accelerated in 2007. Despite record oil and gas prices that sent the Russian GDP skyrocketing, the vast majority of Russians outside the major capital cities have seen little or no improvement in their standard of living, largely due to runaway food prices and a decaying infrastructure. With most of the corporate and state revenues leaving Russia for western real estate and personal bank accounts, the gap between rich and poor here has reached staggering levels.

The TIME announcement praises their selection for restoring his country to prominence in the international arena, dispelling “anarchy”, and recovering national pride. The magazine does express concern about his “troubling” record on human rights. The same things could have been said about Adolf Hitler in 1938, when he took his turn as TIME’s Man of the Year. “Fascism,” TIME wrote then, “has discovered that freedom – of press, speech, assembly – is a potential danger to its own security.” Again these words apply equally well to this year’s winner.

In 1938 there was no doubt that Hitler was a force for evil and TIME made that very clear. But with Putin they perpetuate elements of Kremlin propaganda into the story and often present Putin’s mythology uncritically. Yes, there was epic corruption in the Yeltsin years, but have things improved under Putin or just become more efficient and quieter? Are Putin’s pet oligarchs less rich, less rapacious, less influential? The main difference is that because there was still a free press under Yeltsin, the people found out what was going on. Putin eliminated that possibility – along with many of his critics – soon after taking power.

That Putin has created a “strong Russia” is the biggest fallacy of them all. In fact he and his cronies have hollowed the state out from within. Power now resides with the giant corporations like Gazprom and the small group of loyalists who run them. Putin has managed to bully Europe with Russia’s energy wealth and to damage global stability by entertaining and defending the likes of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Intimidation and provocation, however, should not be misconstrued as real strength. The Tsar’s new clothes are woven entirely from oil and gas.

I understand that this award is not intended to be a beauty contest. But for all of Putin’s attacks on the West, this will be promoted widely within Russia and around the world as a victory and an endorsement by the West of Putin’s policies and practices of dictatorship. It’s an early Christmas present to the Kremlin when what they really deserved was a lump of coal.

I will add a brief response to Putin’s jibe in the TIME article about my speaking English to reporters after my arrest last month. First, I also spoke in Russian, which oddly enough never makes the Kremlin-controlled newscasts. Second, since opposition statements are almost completely banned in the Russian media the foreign press usually makes up 90% of attending media at opposition events. Lastly, I would be delighted to show Mr. Putin which of us speaks and writes better Russian. Perhaps he will accept my challenge to a debate on national television or allow an editorial of mine to appear in a major newspaper.

Kasparov on the Elections

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

For years the governments of the U.S. and Europe have tried to accept Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an equal. Western diplomats now acknowledge that there are differences between Russia and the West, but say these differences are minor, and — in the words of one European Union official — within an “acceptable range.”

For me and for a dozen of my associates this week, that “acceptable range” was 120 square feet. That’s the size of the jail cell I occupied for five days as punishment for “disobeying the orders of a police officer” at an opposition rally in Moscow last Saturday. That’s the charge a Moscow district court added after the fact, a charge not mentioned in the handwritten testimony of the arresting officers.

This was the least conspicuous of the many curious aspects of my arrest and trial. After our rally of several thousand people, we attempted to meet up with another group led by well-known human rights leader Lev Ponomarev. From there we intended to deliver a petition of protest to the office of the Central Election Committee.

The police had blocked the underground pedestrian passageways, so we had to cross the broad street instead and were soon blocked by more police. When they moved in close, I spoke with commanding officer Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Kozlov, whom I had met previously. He warned us to turn back, saying we would not be allowed to approach the CEC offices. I offered to send a small delegation of 20 people to present the petition. He again told us to turn back, which we did.

Of course it is inaccurate to say that the police commander was the one in command. KGB officers in plain clothes were clearly in charge even at the police station, and the arrest itself was as choreographed as the trial to come. When the special security forces known as OMON pushed in past everyone else to arrest me, we could all hear “make sure you get Kasparov” on their walkie-talkies.

From the moment of our detention, we were not allowed to see our lawyers, even when charged at the police station. Three hours into the trial, the judge said it would be adjourned to the following day. But the judge then left the bench and returned to say that we had misheard her, and that my trial would go forward. No doubt another example of what we call “telephone justice.”

As in the street and at the police station, the KGB and the OMON forces were in control. The defense was not allowed to call any witnesses or to present any materials, such as the videos and photos journalists had taken of the march and the arrests.

After the show trial was over, I was taken to the police jail at Petrovka 38 in Moscow, and here the procedural violations continued. Not with regard to my treatment, which was respectful and as hospitable as a small box with metal furnishings and a hole in the floor for a toilet can be. I wasn’t allowed a phone call and all visitors were refused access. Even my lawyer Olga Mikhailova and Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov were forbidden to visit me, despite having the legal right to do so. My world chess champion predecessor, Anatoly Karpov, for years my great rival, generously attempted to pay me a visit but was also turned away.

My other concern was food, since it was out of the question to consume anything provided by the staff. (Nor do I fly Aeroflot. “Paranoia” long ago became an obsolete concept among those in opposition to the Putin regime.) On Sunday, thanks to growing external pressure, they allowed me to receive food packages from home.

In a fitting conclusion, even my release was handled illegally. Instead of letting me out at the jail into the crowd of media and supporters, many of whom had themselves been arrested and harassed while picketing, I was secretly taken to the police station where I was first charged. From there I was taken in a colonel’s automobile all the way to my home. This may sound like good service, but it was obvious the authorities wanted to avoid the festive scene that would have occurred outside the jail.

When I was arrested last April and fined $40, some poked fun at the trivial amount. And five days in a Moscow jail is not the worst fate that can be imagined. Some commentators even suspected I wanted to provoke my own arrest for publicity, a chess player’s far-sighted strategy.

First off, the penalty is not the point; the principle is. Are we to have the rule of law in Russia or not? Second, I have no intention of becoming a martyr, or in leading an opposition movement from prison. I had no illusions and now I can confirm it is not a pleasant place to be. And this is not chess, with its cold-blooded calculations. This is about honor and morality. I cannot ask people to protest in the streets if I am not there with them. At the rally on Saturday, I said our slogan must be “We must overcome our fear,” and I am obliged to stand by these words.

It is also essential to point out that these arrests are only the tip of the iceberg. Such things are taking place all over Russia on a daily basis. Opposition activists — or just those who happen to be in the way of the administration — are harassed and arrested on false charges of drug possession, extremism, or the latest trend, for owning illegal software.

There is little doubt tomorrow’s parliamentary elections will be as fixed as my trial. The presidential elections on March 2 will be a different sort of performance, more improvised, since even now Mr. Putin and his gang are not sure how to resolve their dilemma. The loss of power could mean the loss of fortune and freedom. Outright dictatorship would endanger their lucrative ties with the West.

The campaign rhetoric of Mr. Putin and his supporters is genuinely frightening. Here we have an allegedly popular president who dominates the media, the parliament and the judiciary. He and his closest allies are in total control of the nation’s wealth. And yet his recent speeches are hysterical rants about “enemies within” and “foreign antagonists” trying to weaken Russia — language characteristic of totalitarian states.

So far this campaign has been largely ineffective, at least in my case. During my five days in jail I had the chance to speak to many of the ordinary consumers of Kremlin propaganda. They were generally sympathetic, and showed no signs of believing the many lies the Kremlin and the youth groups it sponsors have spread about the opposition. For them I was still the Soviet chess champion and the idea that I was an “American agent” sounded as ludicrous as it is.

So why is Mr. Putin so scared if things are going so well? He is a rational and pragmatic person, not prone to melodrama. He knows the numbers, so why the heavy and heavy-handed campaigning if he knows he and United Russia are going to win? The answer is that he is very aware of how brittle his power structure has become. Instead of sounding like a Tsar, high above the crowd, he’s beginning to sound like just another nervous autocrat. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The most anxious man in a prison is the governor.”

So demagoguery it is and demagoguery it will be. A violent pro-Putin youth group, Nashi, has already released a poster celebrating Mr. Putin’s “crushing victory” on December 2. It also warns against the “enemies of the people of Russia,” myself included, attempting to disqualify the results. These terms jibe nicely with Mr. Putin’s own rhetoric of threats and fear. The ground is being prepared for greater oppression.

The Other Russia will continue our activities because, simply, some things are worth fighting for and will not come without being fought for. All of the “minor differences” between Mr. Putin’s Russia and the nations of the free world add up to one very large difference: that between democracy and tyranny.

Amnesty Says Kasparov is a Prisoner of Conscience

Russian Federation: Systematic repression on eve of elections

Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the Russian authorities’ systematic disregard for basic human rights in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the country, scheduled for 2 December 2007.

Over the last few months, the organization has seen numerous attempts by the authorities of the Russian Federation to interfere with the right to freedom of assembly, to freedom of association and freedom of expression including of supporters of the political opposition as well as of human rights activist and journalists.

Garry Kasparov, an opposition leader, was arrested on 24 November and sentenced to five days’ administrative detention for allegedly leading an unsanctioned demonstration and resisting police arrest. Several witnesses told Amnesty International that they had overheard conversations among the police indicating that it had been planned in advance of the march to detain Garry Kasparov. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release.

“From the unprovoked arrest and imprisonment of opposition leader Garry Kasparov, to the beating of journalists and human rights defenders and the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, the Russian authorities have created a climate in which it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to express dissenting views and to report these,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

On 24 and 25 November, police detained scores of people before, during and after “marches of dissent” in several Russian cities, beating and kicking them in the process. In St. Petersburg, Russian human rights defender Ella Poliakova, head of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee of St. Petersburg, was detained together with several other people on 25 November for 12 hours after she had attended a press conference of opposition party Yabloko.

Amnesty International is concerned about a number of violations of the right to a fair trial of those detained during the marches. Court hearings failed to adhere to international standards of fair trial with judges refusing to listen to evidence provided by the accused and with some of those accused, including Garry Kasparov, prevented from seeing their lawyers before and after the court hearings. Many people were detained for more than three hours, which is the maximum period under such circumstances. One person was also reportedly beaten by the police who then denied him necessary medical aid when he appeared before a Moscow court.

“The duty of the state to safeguard public order and to protect the rights and freedoms of those possibly affected by public events is no justification for excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators and can not be used as an excuse when clamping down on dissent,” Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International is also deeply concerned about the attack and resulting death of Farid Babaev, a prominent political activist involved in human rights work. Farid Babaev was the first candidate on Yabloko’s party list for the Russian State Duma elections in the southern Russian Republic of Dagestan. On the evening of 22 November, he was shot and fatally wounded outside his flat in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala by unidentified perpetrators. Two days later he died in hospital. Relatives and human rights activists have cited Farid Babaev’s outspoken political views as being a motivation for his murder, while the authorities reportedly deny the murder had any political motivation.

Amnesty International repeats its concerns regarding the abduction and ill-treatment of Oleg Orlov, head of the Human Rights Centre Memorial, and three journalists from the Russian TV station REN TV. The four men were taken from a hotel in Nazran, Republic of Ingushetia, during the night of 23 to 24 November by armed masked men in camouflage. They were driven outside of town and abandoned in a field, after being beaten and threatened that they would be shot.

“The silencing of media and human rights defenders, the harassment and ill-treatment of those who highlight human rights violations or those who express dissent, is unacceptable and cannot be excused, neither during election time nor during periods of heightened security concern,” Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International is publishing today a briefing on human rights defenders in the North Caucasus, calling on the Russian authorities to respect the lawful work of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and to refrain from any unlawful attempts to interfere with their work.

See: Russian Federation: Human Rights Defenders at risk in the North Caucasus, AI Index: EUR 46/053/2007,

Even National Hero Karpov, Public Chamber Member, Denied Access to Kasparov

The Moscow Times reports:

Former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov was turned away when he tried to visit and offer moral support to his old rival, Garry Kasparov, currently in detention for his role in an anti-Kremlin protest Saturday. Kasparov is serving a five-day sentence at a city detention facility for leading a Dissenters’ March in central Moscow. City Hall had given permission for a rally but had barred demonstrators from marching. He is due to be freed on Thursday. Karpov tried to visit Kasparov on Tuesday, but he was turned back by police, said Kasparov’s spokeswoman, Marina Litvinovich. “Karpov is a member of the Public Chamber and has the right to visit those detained,” Litvinovich said. “All the same, they would not let him in. Karpov must have been seeking to extend moral support or see the conditions in which Kasparov is being held.”

Karpov became one of the Soviet Union’s most influential public figures after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev personally branded him the “Chess King” when the young grandmaster became world champion in 1975. Ten years later, his reign was over when he lost the title to Kasparov, who confessed eventually that by defeating Karpov he was also challenging the old communist system and fighting for a new, democratic Russia. On Tuesday, the two men’s different political views seemed to matter little. “A person is in trouble. Of course I’m not indifferent to that,” Karpov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “In Russia right now we have, what, four world chess champions? And, of course, the fate of any one of them is important to other chess players, both in Russia and abroad.” Karpov told the radio station that he must have spent more time at the chessboard with Kasparov than with any other player, including a grueling match that went on for four months. “Generally speaking, I don’t share his political views, but that’s something different,” he said. “I didn’t come here to support him politically.”

Amnesty International added its voice Wednesday to others that have already condemned Kasparov’s arrest. “Amnesty International considers [Kasparov] to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release,” the rights group said in a statement titled “Russian Federation: Systemic Repression on Eve of Elections.”

Meanwhile, opposition supporters, including Union of Right Forces member Boris Nemtsov, held a rotating solo picket Wednesday at city police headquarters on Ulitsa Petrovka demanding Kasparov’s release; under Russian law, a one-man picket does not qualify as a demonstration needing permission. Members of the vehemently pro-Putin youth group Nashi, however, encircled one of the picketers, Alexander Novikov, pretending to be his supporters and prompting police to arrest him. A Nashi activist also was detained.

Kasparov, in Prison

So much for the idea that the mighty Kremlin does not fear opposition leader Garry Kasparov and that his work in Russia is marginal and meaningless, and that he is a self-serving gadfly. Let the critics who say that experience the following before the open their propagandizing mouths.

The Washington Post reports that as members of Kasparov’s group tried to deliver their speeches at a protest rally over the weekend, “pro-Kremlin agitators boomed cackling laughter from loudspeakers behind police, who made no move to stop them. Russian political satirist Viktor Shenderovich noted in an interview at Saturday’s rally that a similar stunt by the opposition would not last a minute if directed against President Vladimir Putin or a United Russia rally.” Kasparov was then arrested, and preemptive arrests were carried out in St. Petersburg for a demonstration that was to follow there the next day, including SPS party leader Boris Nemtsov.

Attorney Robert Amsterdam says Kasparov’s instantaneous show trial clearly violated international law and posts interviews with Kasparov’s attorney and a witness to the arrest and trial.

This is the kind of ape-like hypocrisy that only neo-Soviet Russia can generate. It’s EXACTLY what the Russophile wackos have been complaining about happening in Georgia, but apparently it’s just fine for Russia to do it.

The Associated Press reports (the BBC has video, as does Robert Amsterdam):

Riot police beat and detained opposition leader Garry Kasparov Saturday as they took dozens of protesters into custody at a rally against President Vladimir Putin, his assistant said. He was later taken to a city court, where he was charged with organizing an unsanctioned protest and resisting arrest. [He was subsequently convicted] of leading an opposition protest and sentenced to five days in jail by a Moscow court Saturday. Kasparov and dozens of other demonstrators were detained hours earlier after riot police clashed with Kremlin opponents following a protest rally that drew several thousand people. The former chess champion was forced to the ground and beaten, his assistant Marina Litvinovich said in a telephone interview from outside the police station where Kasparov was held. “What you’ve heard is all lies,” Kasparov said after the sentence was read. “The testimony is contradictory. There was not a single word of truth.”

Two riot police testified in court that they had been given direct orders before the rally to arrest Kasparov, one of President Vladimir Putin’s harshest critics. One of the policemen acknowledged that the two reports he had filed were contradictory. Kasparov was charged with organizing an unsanctioned procession “of at least 1,500 people directed against President Vladimir Putin,” of chanting anti-government slogans and of resisting arrest.

“What we see today is the implementation of Putin’s plan,” Kasparov told journalists in the courtroom. “Putin’s plan” is what the dominant pro-Kremlin party is calling its platform in the current parliamentary campaign. Police also detained Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolshevik Party, who has been Kasparov’s closest partner in a broad opposition coalition. Kasparov, one of Putin’s harshest critics, and other opposition politicians have come under growing pressure before Dec. 2 parliamentary elections.

Determined to see Putin’s party win an overwhelming victory in the elections, the Kremlin has shown little tolerance for any parties or politicians that challenge its rule. “We should overcome the fear that the regime uses to sustain itself,” Kasparov told the crowd. “For the Putin regime, our country is just a source of enrichment.” Kasparov’s coalition, which has welcomed nationalist leftists as well as democrats and Soviet-era dissidents, has little public support. Its ranks have expanded in recent weeks, though, as more mainstream politicians have been squeezed out of the political process.

Riot police surrounded the rally on Academician Sakharov Prospect, a street not far from the center of Moscow. They moved in after the rally had ended and about 150 of the protesters, mainly Limonov’s young activists, began to march toward the Central Elections Commission. Police pushed protesters into three police buses. Before he was himself surrounded by police, Kasparov estimated that dozens had been detained. Kasparov had not joined the young protesters who had broken away from the crowd. He was detained after walking over to see what had happened to them.

Police have violently broken up several so-called Dissenters Marches in the past year, beating demonstrators and bystanders with truncheons and dragging many off to police stations. The city gave the organizers permission to hold the rally but forbid them to march to the Central Elections Commission. The protest was joined by several prominent politicians who had distanced themselves from Kasparov’s opposition coalition in the past. “The feeling of disgust and protest has made us come here,” said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a veteran independent parliament deputy who has been denied an opportunity to run for re-election under new election rules.

Also Saturday, police said three Moscow television journalists and a human rights activist heading to cover an opposition rally in the southern republic of Ingushetia were attacked by armed, masked men. Five men in masks and camouflage burst into their hotel overnight, beat them and abandoned them in a field, said the activist, Oleg Orlov. The four then made their way to a local police station, said Orlov, a member of the respected human rights group Memorial. All four remained in police custody Saturday morning.

REN TV anchor Marianna Maximovskaya was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying police were refusing to free the journalists and activist, insisting that they provide testimony against their attackers. The rally in Nazran, the main city in Ingushetia, was dispersed by riot police, and at least three people were detained.

How long before Kasparov joins Khodorkovsky in Siberia? Other Russia has the following report:

United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, was arrested and beaten by police on Saturday at the conclusion of a “Dissenters’ March” rally held by The Other Russia Coalition, which opposes the authoritarian government of Vladimir Putin. He and over 20 others are still in custody. Kasparov’s official statements will appear here at as soon as he is able to communicate.

The peaceful march of roughly 2000 people had mostly ended when a small group of marchers moved to continue to the building of the Central Election Committee to deliver a petition. The marchers were attacked by special forces police and dozens were taken away. When Kasparov, who was not among the delegation, walked over to see what was happening, he was grabbed by police and pushed onto a bus with other arrestees. (Above: AFP photo of Kasparov on the police bus after being arrested.)

Almost all of those detained were physically abused by the police, including Kasparov. Several of the activists who have been released exhibited serious injuries sustained while in custody. Kasparov and over a dozen others were taken before the Meschansky court and charged with participating in an illegal rally. Despite the judge’s promises that defense witnesses would be allowed, the OMON security forces formed a cordon to prevent anyone from entering the court. It is still unclear if Kasparov and the others will be released promptly. Another Other Russia leader, Eduard Limonov, was also detained and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Human rights leader Lev Ponomarev was also arrested and brought into court. In the past, opposition activists have been detained in order to prevent participation in the next day’s event. A similar march will take place in St. Petersburg on Sunday, Nov. 25.

Official statements from the Moscow government said the Dissenters’ March could not be allowed because of problems it would cause for Moscow traffic. But the buses and the thousands of police forces they carried blocked at least five streets for a much longer time than the marchers would have occupied one street in order to deliver their petition. That petition, by the way, was delivered to the CEC regardless. United Civil Front director Denis Bilunov and UCF council member Maria Litvinovich presented the petition to CEC deputy director Alexei Kissin. The presented statement decries the loss of election rights across Russia and demands that the members of the CEC respect the law and the Constitution.

During Putin’s time in power, countless changes to election laws have been made. Many elections have been outright abolished in favor of appointees. Opposition parties have been squeezed out of existence by new requirements nearly impossible to fulfill. For these reasons, among others, many other parties have joined The Other Russia, including Boris Nemtsov and the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko party. With the Kremlin in total control of the mass media in Russian, taking to the streets is the only viable way of getting the opposition message out to the Russian people. The long-running Kremlin propaganda campaign has produced polls boasting of Putin’s popularity, but when it comes to issues, a majority of Russians say they are dissatisfied with their standard of living and the direction of the country.

Kasparov in the Boston Globe

Garry Kasparov continues to successfully wage his PR campaign against the Kremlin in the West. Yesterday we reported on the massive story that the prestigious New Yorker magazine did about him in the current issue (a piece written by the paper’s editor, no less), and on Sunday Kasparov had a huge interview in the Boston Globe:

THE 1985 CHAMPIONSHIP chess match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov captured the world’s attention not just for the gripping chess, but because Kasparov, at 22, embodied an outspoken, anti-authoritarian spirit that seemed a rebuke to the Soviet status quo. Kasparov won the match, becoming the youngest world chess champion in history and a heroic figure to many who would welcome the collapse of Communism.

In 2005, Kasparov quit professional chess to launch a second career as a political activist in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, bringing his celebrity – and elements of his risk-taking, aggressive chess style – with him. Based in Moscow, Kasparov tours the country, campaigning for democracy and free elections. He also makes his case in the Western press. In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, he argued forcefully that the Putin regime is a Russian Mafia on a massive scale, buoyed by petrodollars, resorting to force, and relying on the Western pipe dream that the New Russia is a fledgling democracy rather than a dangerous stage in the evolution of tyranny.

Kasparov’s group, the Other Russia (, aims to unite all anti-Putin factions, from skinheads to neo-Bolsheviks. In a country tightly controlled by a former KGB agent, this can seem a quixotic goal at best. But Kasparov hopes to draw on the qualities that propelled him to a record-breaking 15 years as chess champion, including the ability to be self-critical, to adjust rapidly to different challenges, and to last. And it can’t be denied that for now Kasparov enjoys a formidable advantage over several other prominent critics of Putin: Kasparov is still very much alive.

Reached last week after midnight Moscow time, Kasparov talked about his new book – “How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom” – and what he hopes to achieve in Russia’s presidential elections.

IDEAS: Why are you awake at this hour?

KASPAROV: I’m working. I use early morning hours for discussions with Americans. I have several more calls to make and don’t normally go to bed before 2 a.m.

IDEAS: You’re running for president in Russia’s March elections on the Other Russia ticket, aren’t you?

KASPAROV: Be very cautious in using the words “running” or “elections.” “Running” is the wrong word because when Americans say it, they think of Giuliani or Obama or McCain. In Russia we are not fighting to win elections. We are fighting to have them.

Most likely I will be nominated by the Other Russia. But that means very little in Putin’s Russia, because everybody understands there’s zero chance of my being registered, due to the technical obstacles on the way. The simplest one is needing 2 million signatures – no more than 40,000 from any one region, whether Moscow or a small town. Next, they investigate the signatures and if they reject 10 percent, you’re out. There are many other obstacles but this is the barrier you can’t cross unless the Kremlin wants you want to participate.

IDEAS: Will the Kremlin let you participate?

KASPAROV: No. Participation would mean that I could be on television, and that’s sacred territory.

IDEAS: Given what has happened to other critics of the Putin regime – the author Alexander Litvinenko, for example, poisoned by polonium-210 in London, and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in a Moscow elevator – don’t you fear for your safety? Or do you think that your fame as a chess player protects you?

KASPAROV: It offers me some sort of protection. It doesn’t offer guarantees. I have bodyguards. My family is protected here as much as possible. I do not fly airplanes long distance, do not consume food or liquids in places I do not know. I try to minimize the risks, and still I’m in danger.

IDEAS: Couldn’t you continue to act against Putin from the West?

KASPAROV: Who cares if I argue from the West? It’s absolutely immoral to talk about Russian problems, and tell people to be on the street in protest against the regime, while I’m sitting in New York.

When I played chess I always used to evaluate my chances. In politics, too, you evaluate your chances, but it’s more of a fight for values. And when you fight for values, unless you stand firm on the ground you’ve chosen, you lose.

IDEAS: But isn’t it important that you survive to go on making your case?

KASPAROV: I travel across the country extensively and talk to the people. They believe me because they know I make enough money to be independent. I never stole from them. I’m not part of the government. I played chess for my country for 25 years. I have world fame and could be comfortable anywhere in the world.

The only argument state propaganda makes against me is I’m an agent of American or Western influence. When I’m in Moscow and on the streets with people, everybody sees it’s nonsense.

IDEAS: I’m sorry to insist, but aren’t you entitled to fear?

KASPAROV: It’s all right. It’s a painful discussion. And you’re not the only one who raises these questions. If I understand the threat is absolutely real, I will probably not push my luck.

IDEAS: Do you identify with the dissidents against the Soviet Union? Do they inspire you?

KASPAROV: They do inspire me and I have good relations with many of them. We are doing something similar. We’re trying to create the concept of opposition in the country. Even under Yeltsin that was frustrated, and never amounted to a genuine democratic opposition.

IDEAS: Is the Other Russia laying the groundwork for long-term opposition?

KASPAROV: No, it’s not long term. We were successful in creating an opposition and at first thought we might be in a powerful position before the presidential election of 2008. That was too optimistic. The collapse of the regime will not occur in March 2008. It will have to take longer. But it’s not long term. I’m absolutely confident the regime will not survive, and my analysis is that it will not survive beyond 2012.

IDEAS: In 1985, the Soviet Chess Federation interrupted your match with Anatoly Karpov, which you were about to win. The Soviet chess world was still recovering from Bobby Fischer’s defeat of Boris Spassky in 1972. Karpov was their reliable new champion. They didn’t want problems from an upstart like you. That’s where your battle with Russian authorities begins, isn’t it?

KASPAROV: Yes. I started by fighting the chess federation and wound up fighting the Soviet regime. In 1990 and 1991 I thought the game was over for Communism and Soviet-style dictatorship. I didn’t plan to become a leader of opposition to the new regime. But when I recognized dictatorship was coming back I gradually came to the conclusion that I had no choice. I had to be part of this fight, which is very important not only for my country but for the rest of the world.