Kasparov Makes Putin Play Defense; 'Other Russia' Unites Opponents

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 28, 2006 | Go to article overview

Kasparov Makes Putin Play Defense; 'Other Russia' Unites Opponents


Byline: Michael Mainville, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

MOSCOW - In his 20 years at the top of the professional chess world, Garry Kasparov was known as a risk-taker, a relentless aggressor who loved to throw his opponents off balance. A year after his retirement, Mr. Kasparov is still taking risks, but against a very different kind of opponent.

Mr. Kasparov, 43, has thrown himself into the murky and sometimes dangerous world of Russian politics. A fierce opponent of President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Kasparov has become the driving force behind a movement to unite opposition forces ahead of Russia's 2008 presidential election.

In the process, he has been threatened, his offices have been raided and he has even been struck on the head with a chessboard by a disgruntled former fan.

"I'm discovering that politics, especially in Russia, is very different from chess," Mr. Kasparov said. "The rules can change. You think you're playing chess but you're actually in the casino."

Mr. Kasparov burst into the chess world in 1984 as a 21-year-old protege challenging the reigning world champion, Anatoly Karpov, in a match to be won by the first to win six games.

After a disappointing start, he battled Mr. Karpov to a seemingly endless series of draws and eventually began to whittle away at the champion's lead. Then, in the most controversial finish to a competitive match ever, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) called off the contest, citing the two players' health.

The competition had gone on for six months and Mr. Karpov had lost 22 pounds. The decision to cancel infuriated Mr. Kasparov, who went on to win a rematch the following year, and he began a long feud with FIDE that eventually led him to set up a rival chess association.

Like many other Russians, Mr. Kasparov had hoped after the end of Soviet rule in 1991 that Russia was on the path to becoming a Western-style democracy. But since Mr. Putin came to power in 1999, he said, he has come to fear for the future.

"Frankly, at the end of the 1990s, I thought it would be all right, that the country would flow into a better system and things would improve automatically. And then Putin arrived," Mr. Kasparov said.

"I was more and more concerned about what was happening in my country, so I decided to use my energy, my strategic thinking and my ability to analyze situations to change something. Maybe not a great deal, but still something."

Mr. Kasparov decided that his best strategy was to try to unite Russia's fractured opposition movements - from left-wing populists to liberal intellectuals - under one banner.

He organized a conference, dubbed "The Other Russia" and timed to coincide with the meeting of Group of Eight leaders in St. Petersburg in July. It was the largest gathering of prominent opposition figures in Moscow in years. …

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