No mystery: what Kasparov said to Obama

by ChessBase
7/8/2009 – On Tuesday former World Chess Champion and oppositional leader Garry Kasparov met with Barack Obama. Russian state media quickly sought to marginalise the meeting between the US President and the "ex-grandmaster". State controlled Russia Today: "What exactly Kasparov and other opposition leaders talked about with Obama, remains a mystery." Perhaps we can help.

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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.

RT report: Obama meets with the Russian opposition

In the segment that starts at 6 min 10 sec in the above video the reporter says:

"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 of Russia.

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.

Source: The Other Russia

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 each one.

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 Obama!”

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 validated.

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 reaction?

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 such contacts.

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 him.

Source: The Other Russia

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