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Kasparov on Putin at Oxford Literary Festival, April 2nd 2016

By Julia Gasper

Read full article at OxfordProspect.com

Chess fans were thrilled to get a chance to hear former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov speak at the Sheldonian as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. And he chose the most controversial possible topic: “Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped”.

Since retiring as a chess player, Kasparov has been very active in politics, and was a vocal leader of the Russian pro-democracy movement in 2008. He has written a book Winter is Coming, detailing how in his view Putin has put the clock back in Russia, dismantling the democratic structures set up in the wake of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. He asserts that Putin’s aim is nothing less than to return to old-style Stalinist dictatorship. If so, it was certainly a clumsy move of Yeltsin to choose Putin as his successor and make him PM in 1999. Kasparov is very critical of Tony Blair for “pandering” to Putin and paving his way as recognized successor.

To judge Kasparov’s warning properly, it is necessary to read his book in full. Without a doubt, he has a lot of evidence for Putin’s ruthless style of exercising power inside Russia and he has been disappointed by the outcome of “perestroika” and “glasnost”. Opposition to Putin’s rule can only be expressed by those who, like Kasparov, are too prominent to be bundled out of the way. It seems he wants a system rather like that of China, where private business is tolerated under state dictatorship, with no bothersome democracy. We buy almost everything from China these days, and our leaders do not treat it as a “threat to the free world”. As for Putin’s explanation of the invasion of Ukraine as being to defend Russian citizens there, Kasparov dismissed it with a wave of the hand.

On the whole Kasparov offered a fairly simplistic view of the political scene as divided into the “free world” of the capitalist West, and its enemies: a bit like a big chess board, with two opposite sides. He also made some very contentious assertions, such as saying that the Russian army went into Syria to bomb American installations, rather than to stop a barbaric terrorist takeover. He went on to claim that ISIS may be a creation of Russia and the Assad regime, because they need an enemy to justify dictatorship. On that point, Kasparov ought to have a public debate with all the Americans who are convinced that President Obama created ISIS and may still be supporting it. It would be a lively discussion!  It would also be interesting to hear him debate with some of the Russians I meet here in England and Europe who admire Putin and think he is doing a good job.

I have bought Mr Kasparov’s book and will be studying it with close interest. I think he is a brave man with convictions about human rights and freedom, and this was a very stimulating event.

Julia Gasper. 3rd April 2016.

Garry Kasparov. Winter is Coming; Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.(Public Affairs Group, subsidiary of Perseus Books, USA, 2015).

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