After Putin: The Free World Must Act | The Wall Street Journal | November 4, 2022


This article is a reprint. You can read the original at the Wall Street Journal.

By Garry Kasparov

“Some political slogans are unique to authoritarian regimes. Back in 2011, one of our most popular chants in the Russian opposition seemed banal to observers from the free world. “Russia without Putin!” we shouted, at the last massive rallies of the pro-democracy movement I helped to form when I retired from professional chess in 2005.

It wasn’t just a demand. It was a challenge to Russians and the world to visualize a free and prosperous future, a Russia welcomed in the community of civilized nations. It was a challenge we failed to meet.

Those impressive demonstrations were the last days of what I call the vegetarian era of Mr. Putin’s demolition of Russian civil society. Soon it would be time for the red meat of nationalism and for blood in the streets of Moscow.

Russians protest Putin’s return to the presidency, Moscow, Sept. 25, 2011.PHOTO: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS

I now live in New York City. Other opposition leaders have been silenced. Boris Nemtsov was gunned down in front of the Kremlin. Alexei Navalny is in a maximum-security prison after surviving a murder attempt by poisoning. Russia is an authoritarian police state, invading its neighbors, committing atrocities and threatening nuclear annihilation. This is Russia with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin is facing grave challenges to his grip on power due to his unprovoked war on Ukraine. Eight years after Russia first invaded, the free world has finally applied serious financial and political pressure on Mr. Putin and his cronies and also sanctions that reach the urban centers he has tried to shield from the worst effects of his policies and adventures.

Russia was never obliged to account for the horrors of the Communist era. That mistake should not be repeated.

Many prognosticators prefer to skip over the immediate aftermath of Mr. Putin’s inevitable fall, as if a fairly elected government will magically arise from the fall of a KGB mafia. Russians have few ways to prepare for the glorious day of Mr. Putin’s exit, but the rest of the world must lay the ground and prepare to act boldly to support the creation of a Russian state that is functional in the near term and that will eventually come to represent all of its people.

The many concessions made to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union led directly to Mr. Putin’s rise after the chaotic, corrupt—but free—interregnum of Boris Yeltsin. But Russia was never obliged to account for the horrors of the Communist era. That mistake should not be repeated.

Mr. Putin’s fall will take place amid the military and economic disasters he created and, regardless of who claims the Kremlin, the free world will have considerable leverage over their survival. Even a nationalist junta, unless it wishes to follow quickly in Putin’s footsteps, will need to reach accords to get the lights back on. These agreements cannot be limited to rhetoric about free elections. They must include reparations to Ukraine and war crimes trials. They must outline plans for a new constitution, with a parliamentary system, and for the independence of Russian regions long exploited by Moscow’s imperial grasp.

Russia after Mr. Putin is as difficult to picture as he intended. Every dictator must appear irreplaceable, to be the lesser evil, the devil we know. But Mr. Putin’s end will come, as much a surprise to him as to anyone else. Let us learn from the past and be ready.

Mr. Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.”


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