Jerusalem Post, Israel
April 28 2005

Chess legend Kasparov to 'Post': Double-check Putin!

As Russian President Vladimir Putin spent his first full day here on
Thursday, legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov had a message for
Israel: Don't trust him!

In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Russia,
Kasparov, who has retired from chess and is now a political rival of
the president's, complained that Putin's regime is trampling on
democratic principles and poses a serious threat to the rest of the
world. He also said that Putin's reliance on support from
ultranationalist forces could spell trouble for Russia's Jews, and he
skewered Putin for strategic shortcomings that, he said, could
imperil Israel.

Russian sales of missiles to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran,
for example, were misguided steps that should worry not only Israel,
Kasparov said. Actually, he continued, they were proof that Putin and
his regime "just want a short-term profit" and that they "don't think
strategically, they can't think long-term."

The Russian president had undermined democratic reforms installed by
his predecessors, Kasparov added, citing strict controls on
independent media and suggestions that Putin might force an
alteration to the constitution that would allow him to remain in
office for a third term.

Kasparov also claimed that Putin was not only doing too little to
combat the rising ant-Semitism in Russia, but charged that the former
KGB officer's government even encouraged and instigated
ultranationalist sentiment, with the security apparatus propping up
far-right groups.

"The only way to win support from the West is to make sure that
everyone is scared of the threat of ultranationalist forces... so
Putin presents himself as the only one who can stop them,"

Kasparov said. Parties such as Nashi, a pro-Putin "version of the
brown-shirts," he said, create provocations that give the Russian
president "a legal chance to use military forces in Russian streets."

Attacking Putin is part of Kasparov's first foray into politics, as a
leader of the liberal opposition group Committee 2008: Free Choice,
since giving up professional chess in March. The 42-year-old is
widely considered the game's best player ever.

For years, though, Kasparov - originally named Gari Weinstein after
his Jewish father, he took on a Russian version of his Armenian
mother's maiden name as a teen after his father died - has been an
outspoken supporter of Israel in the international arena. He has
visited the country several times, especially to strengthen the Tel
Aviv chess club established in his name.

Kasparov told The Post he believed that Israel's Russian immigrant
population should speak out to draw the West's attention to the
dangers that Putin's regime poses.

"Western leaders don't care at all about Putin and [his record on]
democracy as long as he can provide them with some sort of stability
in Russia," he said, "but Putin is not providing stability at all.
The Chechen war is spreading, with Islamists joining what was once a
nationalist separatist fight, and increasing terrorism
dramatically... so Russia is actually less safe today than it was
before" Putin took office.

He also criticized the economic performance of Putin's government,
saying that the economy was precariously dependent on high oil prices
and was growing too slowly, and that the government "has proven it is
incapable of using oil profits to solve social problems."

"They are simply postponing all the key problems that Russia is
facing today, because they don't know how to deal with them,"
Kasparov said.
Further, Kasparov said, the targeting of wealthy businessmen, such as
former Yukos magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is an attempt by Putin and
his associates to control the country's capital.

"The attack on Yukos is an attack against free business in Russia,"
he said. "Khodorkovsky is in jail not because he didn't pay taxes,
but because he was ready to pay taxes... because he was paying his
money to the Treasury, and not to Kremlin bosses. Unwillingness to
cooperate with KGB rule is the key reason behind the [legal] attack."

"Even the czarist regimes were more legitimate and more productive
for the interests of Russia" than Putin's regime, he said.

Leveling such sharp criticism at Putin from within Russia could be
dangerous. Indeed, several Yukos partners who have fled to Israel
claim that they were targeted for prosecution by Putin because of
their vocal political opposition to the government.

Being half-Jewish, Kasparov would be eligible to make aliya should he
find himself under similar or even worse threats.

"I don't even want to discuss a situation in which I would be forced
to leave my native country," he said. "I doubt I would ever have to
leave... but I would consider all possibilities."