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Fred Hiatt: The Kasparov Gambit

Fred Hiatt on Garry Kasparov in today’s Washington Post:

Putin, who traveled to Munich this weekend to alternately bash and condescend to the West, certainly doesn’t seem to worry, and why should he? German prime ministers jump onto his payroll as they leave office. Foreign oil executives thank him obsequiously as he pockets their fields. Political opponents abroad turn up poisoned, neighboring countries are bullied, and Putin pays no price. He sells weapons to Iran, and U.S. officials are grateful that he’s not doing worse. At home, meanwhile, he has systematically neutered anyone and anything that might challenge him: the press, big business, parliament, political parties, governors, mayors, civic organizations. Kasparov, who has helped gather the remnants of opposition from across the ideological spectrum into an umbrella group called Other Russia, admits it’s an uneven match. The regime raided Other Russia’s office in December and confiscated all the books and documents it could find. When the group tried to stage a rally, 600 people were detained on their way to Moscow, and the few thousand demonstrators who made it were surrounded by police in far greater numbers. Noting how stolen elections became the focus for popular uprisings in Ukraine and elsewhere, Putin changed election law to make it almost impossible for an opposition candidate to qualify for a spot on the ballot. “If we have to evaluate our chances today — slim to none,” Kasparov says, noting how the absence of political space constricts any strategizing. “If you’re at risk of being mated in one or two, you can’t think about pawn structure for the long term.” … Ultimately the regime’s vulnerability lies in its basic nature, Kasparov suggests. In the system Putin has created, Kasparov sees elements of feudalism (“local bosses loyal to the top man in exchange for rights to loot the region”), Mussolini-style corporate fascism and old-style KGB brutality. But in the end, “this is not the geopolitical monster of Soviet times. This is all about money. The government is business. It’s about Gazprom, it’s about Rosneft.

Read the complete column here.