Adolf Hitler, I suggest to Garry Kasparov, undeniably had his faults. But is it wrong to imagine that even the Führer – in common with Stalin, Robespierre and Pol Pot – initially entered political life with some notion of enhancing the public good?
“Define ‘good’,” replies Kasparov. “Then examine the consequences. Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Though in that league, Pol Pot may be the champion.”
“How about Putin?” I ask. “Was there ever any sense of a mission; any hint of philanthropy?”
“No. Putin is an opportunist, not a strategist. He’s like a poker player who got dealt a lucky hand. He was a KGB man from the start and proud of it. The KGB,” he adds, “is not a philanthropic organisation. If a kid’s dream is to join the KGB, that is something of a concern.”
We meet in a private room at a hotel in Wroclaw, Poland. If you didn’t recognise this muscular, grey-haired figure as the greatest chess player of his era, you might struggle to guess his former occupation. With his combative manner and flattened nose, you might take him to be a retired prize-fighter.
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