Before we come to Kasparov's statement let us see how it was reported in the
Russian media. Russia Today TV, also known as Russia Today and simply RT, is
a globally broadcast English-language news channel from Russia, and the first
all-digital Russian TV channel, sponsored by the state owned Russian news agency
RIA-Novosti. The channel, which cost about $30 million in 2005 to set up and
$60 million for its first year of operation, started broadcasting on December
10, 2005 with nearly 100 English-speaking journalists reporting for it worldwide,
and is available around the world via satellite. The broadcast is also available
online for free on the Russia Today homepage.
In the segment that starts at 6 min 10 sec in the above video the reporter
"But it wasn't just economy which dominated Obama's second day in the
capital. After meeting the country's business elite and those in power the
US President went to talk to those on the other side of political life. It
is almost a tradition for American presidents to meet with the Russian opposition.
President Obama was no exception, meeting with Garry Kasparov, the ex-grandmaster
who swapped a brilliant chess career for a political one. Few in Russia know
what his political program is, though many have heard of his alliance with
Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolshevik Movement, outlawed in Russia
for extremism. But what exactly Kasparov and other opposition leaders talked
about with Obama, remains a mystery, as it was all done behind closed doors.
'It was just a political gesture on behalf of the American administration
to recognise that there is an opposition in force and to also recognise that
Russia does have some form of democracy. But at the end of the day the Obama
administration, as I read it, supports the current administration that is
in power right now'."
First of all: is it really a tradition for US Presidents to meet with the Russian
opposition on their trips to Moscow? Certainly not for George W. Bush and Condoleezza
Rice, who never did it. “The last US president who met not only with authorities,
but with the opposition was Bill Clinton,” said Russian Republic Party
leader Vladimir Ryzhkov.
Secondly when Russia Today reports are forced to mention the name of Garry
Kasparov they mechanically bring up Eduard Limonov, with the same stock footage
of the National Bolshevik Movement leader sitting with Kasparov. The implication
is that Kasparov and the opposition is dabbling with extremism. But is that
the case? Wikipedia
tells us: "The Other Russia" is an umbrella coalition that has gathered
opponents of then Russian President Vladimir Putin. The coalition brings together
representatives from a wide variety of political and human rights movements,
nationalist and Communist groups (though the Communist Party of the Russian
Federation is conspicuously absent), as well as individual citizens. The group
includes both left and right-wing opposition leaders as well as mainstream liberals
such as former world chess champion and United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov,
former Prime Minister of Russia and People Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov
and Russian Republic Party leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, as well as the National
Bolshevik Party (a party advocating National Bolshevism, an ideology mixing
nationalist and communist ideas) with its leader Eduard Limonov and far-left
Vanguard of Red Youth.
Finally: is what Kasparov talked about with Obama really a mystery, one which
Russia Today is unable to resolve? Perhaps the following transcripts will help...
Garry Kasparov’s Statement to President Barack Obama
has provided a full transcript of United Civil Front Chairman Garry Kasparov’s
statement to US President Barack Obama. Kasparov was one of a handful of Russian
opposition leaders to meet with Obama on Tuesday. Afterward, Kasparov gave this
interview about his impressions of Obama and the meeting.
Garry Kasparov – Chairman of the United Civil Front
Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Thank you, Mr. Obama, for meeting with us here today. It is odd that a meeting
with the president of the United States is easier to achieve for most of us
than a visit with the president of Russia. Those of us who oppose the current
Kremlin regime have ever-fewer opportunities to express our opposition –
not in our fraudulent elections, our state-dominated media, or even in the streets
I have spent considerable time in those streets in the last few years marching
with thousands of others who want nothing more than to freely choose our own
path. For expressing this basic desire they are called traitors and are beaten,
arrested, and murdered.
These brave citizens are not troublemakers or criminals, certainly no more
so than those who marched for their civil rights – for their human rights
– in Selma in 1965. And our thoughts are those of John Lewis, who said
“We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our
freedom, and we want it now.” (Though in Russia the federal troops are
on the other side, so a little patience is required.)
And yet when I travel in the West I often hear, even from high-ranking government
officials, that Russians are lucky to be freer than we were in the days of the
USSR. But we have crossed from a dark forest into a desert. Russia has been
turned back on its road to democracy. Once again we have political prisoners
in my country, a reality I once could not imagine. There is only grief when
you must explain to your children why you are not ashamed of being arrested,
and why their father is not a villain.
Mr. President, your speech today was quite impressive, embracing the Russian
people and distinguishing us from our current rulers. I assure you that the
mainstream Russian opposition doesn’t see the United States as a threat.
Anyone who considers Russia’s national interest – instead of their
personal interests – realizes our real challenges, like yours, come from
China and radical Islam.
You and President Medvedev are both lawyers, both young, and perhaps have other
things in common. But the leaders of this Kremlin regime have fundamentally opposing
interests to those of the US as well as interests that directly oppose those
of the Russian people you spoke so eloquently about, and no amount of common
ground will change that fact.
Prime Minister Putin and his friends have treated the Russian treasury like
their personal bank, but only for withdrawals. They are selling the riches of
our country from under our feet. In fact, if, President Obama, you wish to go
down in history like Thomas Jefferson or William Seward, I’m sure you
can get a good deal on several million acres of Russian land during your visit!
You mentioned Honduras today, but here the opposition is taking lessons from
another Latin American nation, Chile in 1988, where disparate groups banded
together to win a referendum against the Pinochet dictatorship. We come from
every part of the ideological spectrum, united only by a desire for free and
fair elections and freedom of speech and assembly. Two days ago we hosted a
meeting titled “Russia After Putin” to plan for that brighter future.
There is a great deal of conjecture about the power structure of the government
in Russia today, a terrible waste of time. What matters is that it is anything
but a democracy. The Russian constitution describes three branches of government.
Unfortunately, all three are now contained between the walls of Mr. Putin’s
office. To all of President Medvedev’s talk of liberalization, I can say
only that talk is cheap. We have seen no meaningful policy changes in the past
year to indicate a new course.
To the contrary, things are getting worse. President Medvedev has signed into
being some of the most blatant anti-Constitutional practices of the so-called
law enforcement programs. I have with me a partial list of recent victims of
political oppression that I would like to leave with your staff here today.
Unfortunately, even this partial list is quite long.
A single case illustrates all the ills of the regime – political, economic,
and judicial. That is the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his company Yukos.
Mr. Khodorkovsky and several of his colleagues have been sitting in jail for
years for refusing to bend to Putin’s will. In 2005, you and your then
fellow-Senators Biden and McCain submitted Resolution 322, expressing concern
that the Khodorkovsky case was politically motivated, a violation of Russian
law, and a demonstration that the Russian judiciary was not independent. Four
years of continued injustice have proven your concerns to be completely valid.
We still have hope despite these setbacks. Do not place Russia on a mythical
list of countries that are not ready for democracy. No people on Earth deserve
or desire to live under dictatorship. There were two Germanys, now there are
two Koreas and two Chinas. The last few weeks in Iran should prove the final
repudiation of the fable that some places are genetically resistant to freedom.
Mr. President, you spoke today about a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia.
This is also my dream. But today Russia is weak, uneasy, and, despite a decade
of rising energy prices, still quite poor outside a select few. Only Russians
can solve our crisis, and I believe that we will. And only a Russia freed from
the fetters of our dictatorial regime can play the positive role in the world
you described so vividly.
Kasparov Interview on Obama Meeting
has presented an interview with United Civil Front chairman Garry Kasparov after
his meeting with US president Barack Obama. Kasparov was one of a group of Russian
opposition figures to meet with Obama Tuesday afternoon in Moscow.
Q: You said at the press conference after the meeting
with President Obama that his speech today was “less than what we wanted
but more than what we expected.” What did you mean?
Garry Kasparov: Ideally he would have named names. He made
some strong statements about democracy being the solution and the failure of
totalitarianism, far stronger than anything we heard from the last two administrations.
But he avoided directly criticizing Putin and Medvedev, the core of our dictatorial
system. Nor did Obama mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose jailing by Putin and
continued imprisonment by Medvedev symbolizes everything Obama was criticizing
about authoritarian states.
But he was strong and gave a consistent message. He repeatedly emphasized that
the important relationship between America and Russia is about the people, not
their regimes. That got a very positive reception here. Obama opened direct
lines of communication instead of dealing only with official Kremlin channels.
Q: Aside from Obama’s tone, what about
specific positions or policy proposals?
GK: It looks like Putin and his gang have finally met someone
who won’t play their little game of give and take. Obama’s tough
and he didn’t back away from the most difficult issues. Sovereignty of
Russia’s neighbors, mentioning Georgia and Ukraine in particular. He refused
to link missile defense to Iran or anything else.
In fact, I don’t see anything that Obama gave up, which likely came as
a surprise to Putin, who expected the new American president to be eager to
make deals to have a success to report back home. Obama likely surprised some
Republicans in the US as well. Before he started his trip, several conservative
GOP members wrote an open letter to Obama with recommendations. Not linking
missile defense to nuclear arms reduction, defending the rights of Ukraine and
Georgia, and meeting with the opposition. From what I can tell, Obama followed
Obama seems like a man who doesn’t try to solve problems that don’t
have solutions. He saves his energy and political capital on realistic goals.
If there’s a big obstacle he simply takes it off the table and deals with
what can be done. Perhaps more importantly he is honest about saying that is
what he’s doing. For example, instead of making a lot of meaningless statements
about Iran, where Putin’s interests are in direct opposition, Obama moves
on to areas where progress can be made. I have to admit I found this practical
approach attractive in the end.
Q: What was Obama’s message to the opposition
members at your meeting this afternoon?
GK: I think he left a positive impression and I felt he was
being open and direct with us. He said he “didn’t live in the abstract,
he lived in history,” and that he had to protect the interests of the
people who elected him. When he said he wouldn’t make any deals that compromised
American principles he sounded more like Reagan than what we have heard from
US administrations over the past twenty years. And he kept his word to invite
opposition figures from across the ideological spectrum instead of just a few
liberals whose are considered pro-American.
In my statement I quoted the American civil rights leader John Lewis about
not being patient when waiting for freedom. Obama told a story about his time
in the state senate of Illinois, how the Republicans were in charge for six
years. He felt irrelevant in the opposition, like he couldn’t change anything
meaningful. Things change, he said. Then [Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov
said that was exactly the way things are now in the Russian Duma! Zyuganov also
told Obama he’d done a good job nationalizing the banks and auto companies.
It was all he could do not to say, “You’re on the right track, comrade
Q: In your statement you mentioned Khodorkovsky
and a Senate resolution Obama signed about him in 2005.
GK: Yes, yes, and I was not the only one. Yelena Lukyanova
and Boris Nemtsov also brought up Resolution 322 in our meeting. And it was
not only Obama, it was also Biden and McCain – something of a coincidence,
no? In the resolution they express concern that the case is politically motivated
and that it shows the Russian court system is corrupt. And now here we are four
years later with Khodorkovsky still in jail and being tried again for even more
absurd charges. Obviously Obama’s concerns from 2005 have been more than
So why isn’t the name of this prominent political prisoner a topic? I
think the term “political prisoner” is too powerful and brings up
heavy memories from the Cold War and the USSR. But it is also accurate, so the
truth must be spoken. Several of our activists were arrested for protesting
in front of the hotel where our meeting took place today, simply for standing
there with a sign.
Q: Several members at the meeting broached
the topic of the US improving relations with Cuba. What was Obama’s
GK: That came from Ilya Ponomariov and Zyuganov. Obama said
his administration was open to contacts with the Cuban government and the opposition.
He pointed out, however, that unlike in Russia, it was unlikely the Cuban opposition
to Castro in the United States would be eager for the US to have closer relations
with Cuba. He also frankly admitted there are political restraints on establishing
Q: Did you have any parting advice for President
Obama? Or he for you?
GK: Well, we both agree it is not for the United States to
interfere in Russia. He said “we are watching but not interfering.”
I suggested that he have his staff keep an eye on the Russian translations of
his remarks, as the Kremlin likes to make little “corrections” to
create the image they wish to present. I also presented Obama with a list of
victims of state oppression. It helps that Obama’s top advisor on Russia,
Mike McFaul, is extremely capable and knowledgeable, and that Obama relies on