For a number of years now Garry Kasparov has been writing editorial pieces for the Wall Street Journal. In the past weeks we've seen articles by him in the Financial Times and now in the liberal New York Times. Normally a staunch supporter of conservative US politics, Kasparov now criticises the Bush administration (and European leaders), not for the usual Iraq and environmental policies, but for ignoring Russia's slide back into dictatorship under the current Kremlin leadership.
Kasparov has also co-organised an alternate summit to the G8 (which he calls the "G7", because he continues to hope "that the West will find its collective backbone and make Russia's participation contingent on its actually being a democracy"). At this "Other Russia" summit he read a letter signed by one hundred policy-makers, opinion-leaders, intellectuals and Nobel Laureates from Europe and the United States, which stated that Russia must meet "standards of justice, freedom and of internationally acceptable diplomacy if it wishes to remain a member of the G8 and of the community of democratic nations" and called on the G7 leaders to "raise these issues directly with President Putin this weekend in St. Petersburg."
In his NYT article Kasparov starts off by quoting Winston Churchill: "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." For five years President Bush has been talking about maintaining an open dialogue with Russia's president Vladimir Putin, but persuasion and appeasement toward Russia have failed. Kasparov feels that it is time for Western leaders to take a tougher stand, and the coming summit of the G8 in St. Petersburg offers them a chance to do exactly this. At the very least they can see for themselves how bad things have become in Russia.
Unfortunately "Mr. Bush and Europe's leaders apparently believe it is best to disregard such unpleasantness for the sake of receiving Russia's cooperation on security and energy. This cynical and morally repugnant stance has also proven ineffective. Just as in the old days, Moscow has become an ally for troublemakers and anti-democratic rulers around the world. Nuclear aid to Iran, missile technology to North Korea, military aircraft to Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela, and a budding friendship with Hamas: these are the West's rewards for keeping its mouth shut about human rights in Russia."
As the co-chairman of the All-Russia Civil Congress and the chairman of the United Civil Front of Russia Kasparov is part of an alternative summit to the G8. The "Other Russia" conference in Moscow brought together politicians and nongovernmental organizations from all over Russia and from every part of its political spectrum.
The Scotsman has an article on the subject that is well worth reading. "Kasparov makes his first political move on Putin" by Emma Cowing tells of an attack on 31-year-old PR specialist Marina Litvinovich, who works with Garry Kasparov. It was "merely one incident in a catalogue of intimidation toward Kasparov and his staff since he made the surprising announcement last March that he intended to retire from the international chess circuit to enter Russian politics."
Cowing considers the alternative summit "a publicity coup for Kasparov, scheduled to cause maximum embarrassment to the Kremlin. She also thinks that Kasparov could be playing with fire. More than 20 of his supporters have been attacked over the past few weeks, while he himself was roughed up by Interior Ministry troops.
According to Cowing Kasparov is planning to run for the Russian presidency in 2008. But can a grandmaster become president? "In a country where chess is viewed in much the same way as professional tennis is in the US," writes Cowing, "Kasparov is an A-List celebrity. Broodingly handsome, with salt-and-pepper hair and dark soulful eyes, he is one of Russia's most recognisable figures. He compares himself on the political scale to Arnold Schwarzenegger – "economically conservative but socially liberal" – although the celebrity comparison also rings true. The only difference is that, while it has taken Schwarzenegger years of political campaigning and donations to get to his current position of Governor of California, Kasparov has caught serious political attention in the West, has the highest political profile of any Russian politician except Putin, and a good shot at the Russian presidency come 2008, all within 18 months."
If you speak a bit of German (or Russian) you will want to watch the following documentary, produced by a journalist of the national Swiss TV channel who accompanied Kasparov for a year on his political journeys through the Russian heartland.