Garry Kasparov, considered the greatest chess player of all time, today is the most recognized international figure opposing Vladimir Putin. This element also transformed him into one of the least vulnerable figures within the pool of the Russian president’s rivals, as in the past others in this category have ended up incarcerated or forced out of the country. Kasparov alerts that his country is leaning toward a dictatorship, which converted him into a hated and controversial figure in Kremlin. Presently, the movement opposing Putin lacks any voices of similar relevance.
His main field of focus is on human rights, in which he has made a new and energetic denunciation at the Oslo Freedom Forum, of which he is one of the founders. In a conversation with EL PAÍS, Kasparov insists that Putin represents a threat for Russia and for the rest of the world.
Question: What has changed in Putin’s second term of presidency? What is the situation?
Answer: The situation is progressing disastrously. Russia is concluding its transformation process of a dictatorship of a single party to a dictatorship of just one man. This is bad news, but at the same time good news because it is an agony. The regime is less flexible, has less capacity to maneuver and is entering in its final phase, one which I believe will not last long. I think in the next two or three years we will see a massive explosion, but at a high cost for the country because Putin will not leave for reasons such as being unpopular or because he loses elections. Putin will be in power until the bitter end, and Russia has already passed the phase in which a peaceful transition of power would have been possible.
Q: What plan does Putin have?
A: To be in power for as long as he is able to be.
Q: But in Russia there is a Constitution, laws.
A: Yes, but everything is conditioned and could change according to his will to remain in power. His government is now illegitimate because he is now in his fourth term of office (counting the four years of the Dmitri Medvédev presidency), although technically it is his third, and he has demonstrated that the Constitution for him is a mere piece of paper that can be used at his will.
Q: Then what is necessary to stop Putin?
A: Russia, the Russian nation, lost a big chance to create change in the 90s. In reference to Putin, it is very difficult because he has had luck and the older generations in Russia view him as an improvement from the tumultuous and dangerous social and political climate of the 90s.
Q: What is left of what has been called the Russian Spring, the protests two years ago?
A: It produced a few results, among others, because it demonstrated that the regime does not take into account the opinion of the citizens and it demonstrated the illegitimate nature of the Putin government. It cannot be said that those who protested have disappeared. These individuals are still there. Until December 2011 you could not find more than 4,000 people protesting; today there are some 25,000. At decisive moments we have seen more than 150,000 people in the streets. That is not enough, but the protests are there, and the objective is to create massive protests in the streets.
Q: Is this your strategy against Putin, street protests?
A: Only the protests will be able to overthrow the regime. Putin will not turn over his power by means of a calm, quiet constitutional process.
Q: Personally, what has been your role in working to dethrone Putin and thereafter?
A: I do not think that it is the moment for anyone to make personal plans. I do what I can to bring down the regime. Once my country is free, I can start to consider different options but I have already had enough glory and fame in my life so I do not have vast personal expectations. The most important for Russia, and for the world, is to overthrow Putin because while he is in power he influences other countries, including yours.
Q: What plans does Putin have in Venezuela and Latin America?
A: All dictators on earth have close ties, whether Putin, the Chavez government, Iran, North Korea, Syria… They have contacts. They negotiate and do business together but more importantly they support one another because they do not want change and they fear the domino effect. They fear that if one falls, they all fall.
Q: Do you think Putin is working to rebuild the Soviet empire?
A: No, it is not that. It is not ideological but yet a matter of mafia. Everything is based on money and power. It is not ideological.
Q: His relationship with Venezuela, then, is a matter of money?
A: Venezuela has money. I believe that they are protecting one another. If Putin falls, the Chavez government will lose a fundamental foreign ally. And, if the Chavez government falls, it is probable that the other Latin American rulers who follow him will face severe problems.
Q: What position will Putin maintain in the Syrian crisis?
A: He will support (Bashar el) Asad until the end because he fears that if El Asad falls, many Russians will interpret this to mean that the same could happen to Putin. This is the strong brotherhood that exists between dictators, that they protect one another until the end.
Q: The current negotiations with the United States regarding Syria. They no more than a mere mask?
A: Well, the United States is a superpower and Putin has to calm the anxiety of the Russian bureaucracy that may worry that its interests are not well defined in the United States and in Europe. Putin tries to negotiate with the United States to contain the effects of the Magnistky case (the Russian lawyer whose death in prison provoked, as retaliation, a United States sanction law against Russian officials). This is his only objective. They do not share the same interests. At the hour of truth, Putin will not offer any viable solutions in the Middle East because of the differences in interests. We want lower oil prices, which will alleviate the global economy; he wants higher prices so that he, and those affiliated with the Chavez government and the Mullah, maintain power.
Q: So you believe that the Obama Administration’s politics of dialogue are a mistake?
A: I do not know. I think that this extends to a larger, vaster issue. Seventy-five years ago the world tried to pacify Hitler and today it also uses the same politics with Putin. We cannot negotiate with dictators; it did not work then and it will not work now.