Putin’s Russia is a ‘Mafia State’ | Kathimerini | July 7, 2023


This article is a reprint. You can read the original at Katherimini.

By Athanasios Katsikidis

“Garry Kasparov needs no special introduction. He is considered the most recognizable chess grandmaster, as he held the title of world champion for 15 consecutive years (1985-2000). His deep understanding of the game and the intelligent complexity of his approach to his moves established him as a dominant player in a game that had become synonymous with the elite of Western countries. The Soviet Union’s dominance of the chess world began in the late 1940s, and that dominance was recognizable to just about everyone, even those who had no idea about the citizens behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. In 1996 Kasparov was destined to go down in history as the first man to confront the machine and an early form of artificial intelligence, taking on IBM’s Deep Blue computer, winning the first match, but losing a year later to its upgraded version.

A critic of Vladimir Putin and a human rights advocate, he was in Athens recently as part of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s annual SNF Nostos Conference and spoke to Kathimerini about the developments on the Ukrainian front, as well as inside Russia, while the conversation – like a game of chess – changed the focus of interest to artificial intelligence and the psychology of the machine.

Our interview with Kasparov took place at a time when international public opinion was watching in amazement Yevgeny Prigozhin’s uprising against Putin and his Wagner Group’s advance inside Russia. According to Kasparov, “What happened now [Prigozhin’s mutiny] is the demonstration that the entire political system in Russia is a decoration. All these institutions, the Senate, the parliament, and all other institutions, they are [built] on sand. And even Putin is some kind of a fake leader. It is a mafia state based on fear, based on corruption, and also on a lack of political institutions that could fight back against this power grab. If you destroy political institutions, if you create a political desert. Who survives in the desert? Snakes, scorpions, rats. And now you could see that the political process that Putin did not want to be done by elections is being done by the hammer.”

“Russia is a fascist dictatorship. We can talk about the restoration of this when it is over. As of today, Russia is compared to Nazi Germany, however, it is being transformed into something else now because, you could not imagine Goring and Himmler fighting for power and Hitler saying, ‘Let’s see who wins.’ So even dictatorship is fake in Russia. So that is why I think before the dust settles, before Ukraine wins the war and before Russia basically collapses, we cannot talk about the future arrangements.”

But what could be the future of Russia in the light of a possible collapse? Kasparov, together with businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, believes that the change of regime in Russia will come with the victory of Ukraine.

“Ukraine’s victory is mandatory for Russia to move away from Putin’s fascism. And, by the way, even before Ukraine has won the war, we could see that the bad war had an effect on Russia. If history is a guide, all bad wars in Russia led to revolts and revolutions. And this war has hundreds of thousands of men thrown into this war without understanding why they are fighting. That is why in Russia the gap between rich and poor is huge. In Russia, the ratio of wealth and poverty is worse than in many African countries. And all of a sudden you have hundreds of thousands of men armed in a war that is going poorly. And it is just a matter of time before you have a leader who will say, ‘Let’s restore justice.’ Justice is a magic word in Russia, it is historical. And social media gives a clear picture that the ‘bosses’ are not fighting the war and that the poor fight and die. People know that the ‘bosses’ have very rich lives, whether it is in Moscow or in Cote d’Azur, or elsewhere. But as long as life was OK, they did not care about the rich people. But now they have to die, while the ‘bosses’ are still making tons of money. And then somebody will say: ‘You know what? We have weapons. Let’s restore justice.’”

‘All these institutions, the Senate, the parliament, and all other institutions, they are [built] on sand. And even Putin is some kind of a fake leader’

“Now, unlike 1917 and the Bolsheviks, there is no political wing there that could take over power. It is a road to chaos. And we hope that the chaos will basically put an end to the Russian empire because it is time to go. We are in the 21st century. And from the ashes of this empire, we hope that we can resurrect a better Russia, which will be part of the Euro-Atlantic geopolitical space.”

The war in Ukraine, apart from the chain reactions around the world, has brought back the war shadows of the past, shaking the notions of “normal coexistence” of peoples and “peace.” Kasparov, despite his stance against Putin’s policies, remains a Russian citizen and, as he says in response to a question about the meaning of human life, “I always feel a bit uncomfortable to answer the question because I am Russian. Of course, I was against Putin, I had predicted the war and I am helping Ukraine by raising millions of dollars for them. But I am still Russian. That puts me in a very awkward position because Russia is killing Ukrainians and even though I had nothing to do with it, I opposed it as much as I could.”

“I think that the Ukrainian war actually exposed so many fake values of this world because after the end of the Cold War and for so many years, the Western policy was that we can open trade, we can have an exchange, and through these open connections, we can expect dictators to liberalize their countries. That policy led to a total failure. Now Putin’s stance will also affect the Western attitude towards China because we can see that China also shifted from a party dictatorship, the Communist Party into a one-man dictatorship, with Xi Jinping being in charge. You have to be aware that a one-man dictatorship is the most unstable form of governance.”

Our conversation shifts to the latest technological developments, with artificial intelligence in the spotlight. Kasparov was the first to challenge an intelligent machine and was defeated. He talks about this experience and the evolution of his inanimate opponent.

“All the games which could be qualified as closed systems will be eventually be dominated by the machines. Not because machines understand the game or because they can solve the game, but because they make fewer mistakes. Machines are just more effective by reducing the number of mistakes, and humans, even the best of us, are all prone to show our weakness at a certain point. And chess was the beginning of the story. Machines, as long as they feel comfortable, within a framework, dominate. And this teaches us that we have to reconsider our relationship with computers.”

“However, even though machines can do so many things, they cannot go into the realm of creativity because creativity means that you come up with something new which may work, or may not. Machines do not operate with this kind of equation. Machines cannot understand the notion of failure, which is strange to the machine. So, creativity for humans means that we take the risk. The machine does not understand the meaning of risk but just looks at the bottom line. So that is why creativity is still our domain.”

On the question of whether AI can understand the personality of its opponent through constant interaction, Kasparov advances a different interpretation of the abilities of intelligent machines.

“The machine does not play against an individual, it does not care about the individual. The way to make machines aware of an opponent’s personality is basically to program them. You have to download the data about the opponent and also change the evaluations because, let’s say, you want the machine to be more aggressive against a specific player. So, you have to reprogram it. And it is very cool that it is the human contribution that will make these slight changes in machine’s approach.” Our discussion with the most famous chess grandmaster concludes with his reference to Greek culture and how mythology was an important part of the development of his personality.

“A Russian book, ‘The Myths of the Ancient Greeks,’ was one of my favorites. And I am very happy that my daughter, 16 years old, is a big fan. So, we actually all read the myths and the history of Troy was my favorite. And I am very happy that my daughter is also a big fan though our sympathies were on the side of the Trojans because they defended their city.”

“We must never forget that Greece is the cradle of democracy and it is very important to remember that. Again, one of the lessons of ancient Greece is that democracy has a price. You have to defend it. Democracy is lost the moment you lose vigilance.””


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