An interview with opposition activist Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Free Choice 2008 Committee and leader of the United Civic Front, discusses the state of the opposition in Russia. “The regime is like a vast vacuum cleaner designed to suck money out of the regions and deposit at the top – in Moscow.”

Question: You have faced physical assaults on occasion, and not long ago your aide Marina Litvinovich was beaten up severely. Why does this happen? Whom do you suspect of being behind all these attacks?

Garry Kasparov: It stands to reason that all this is orchestrated by those who don’t want us in politics. That means the authorities.

Yes, Marina was badly beaten – fortunately, without any lasting effect on her health as such. In my view, it was a warning to all of us to stop doing what we have been doing. And what we’ve been doing comes down to fighting injustice and the tyranny of state officials.

The regime is trying to prevent mass protests from taking place, but I’m sure that the international community’s attitude to Russia will become less tolerant after the G8 summit in July. The regime will amend federal legislation this autumn. and these amendments will certainly enable it to “do away” with the democratic opposition.

Question: Do you fear for your life?

Garry Kasparov: I hired bodyguards as soon as I went into politics. It’s clear that two or three, or even five, bodyguards wouldn’t be enough against a determined attack. Still, bodyguards do help in some critical situations.

Question: Marina Litvinovich is in charge of your investigation into the Beslan school hostage siege. Have the investigation results been revealed to anyone yet?

Garry Kasparov: Not yet, but we will definitely make them public knowledge. I suspect that the assault on Marina is linked to the investigation, in some way. The regime doesn’t want the public to see the results of an independent investigation, so it would stop at nothing to silence anyone who even considers doing this against its wishes. We maintain that it is necessary to resume investigations into all the activities of the authorities since 1999: the start of the war in Chechnya, and the start of the atmosphere of fear and intimidation throughout Russia. Terrorism is being used as a pretext to abolish and dismantle democracy in Russia.

Question: Does it occur to you that living abroad would be better for your health?

Garry Kasparov: I don’t rule out the possibility that they may try to drive me out. But on my part, I don’t intend to leave Russia.

Question: And what don’t you like about the authorities?

Garry Kasparov: Back in the early 1990s, I never thought that developments would take this turn: that Boris Yeltsin’s regime would initiate the wars in Chechnya and orchestrate Vladimir Putin’s election, or that elections in Russia would be virtually abolished. The April 1993 referendum was probably Russia’s only free and fair vote: the opposition and the authorities had truly equal access to the media, and administrative resources weren’t used directly to rig the outcome so that it would match the regime’s plans. These days, the political situation in Russia makes all elections just a waste of time. Elections are inevitably rigged, and that makes them pointless.

I don’t believe that the regime in Russia can be replaced by means of fair competition. The regime will continue doing everything in its power to minimize media independence (if there’s anything left of it now). The regime will continue controlling business and attacking any companies that resist it and refuse to be incorporated into the hierarchy of governance.

I travel extensively, and every trip convinces me that the hierarchy of governance cannot ensure normal development for Russia’s regions. In fact, the regime is like a vast vacuum cleaner designed to suck money out of the regions and deposit at the top – in Moscow. Instead of investing in development of the regions, the regime is bleeding them dry. Along with everything else, it invents all manner of hype like the national projects. The money invested in those… clearly, it won’t be invested in regional development. Most of it will be embezzled.

Question: Boris Nemtsov has mentioned that a democratic coalition being formed. Do you have anything to do with this?

Garry Kasparov: Georgy Satarov, Lyudmila Alexeyeva and I, as co-chairs of the All-Russian Civic Congress, are doing all we can to consolidate democratic and oppositionist forces in Russia. In our view, however, this coalition should not rely on anyone who seeks the Kremlin’s approval for every move. The opposition is split into two camps nowadays: those who can do deals with the Kremlin, and those who can’t. Many politicians regard the chance to do a deal with the Kremlin as more important than the ability to do something for the people. All they think about is the prospect of being allowed into parliament – so they never challenge the Kremlin and the regime. We don’t intend to back it, because any attempt to become incorporated into the regime will only add to its legitimacy and drive Russia even further into a dead end. We should be thinking about how to extricate Russia from where it is now, rather than about getting 25 or 30 seats in the Duma and playing by the Kremlin’s rules.

Question: Which forces do you rule out as allies in election campaigns?

Garry Kasparov: The LDPR and United Russia, as the parties that justify everything that is being done to Russia. The radical left-wing and right-wing political organizations that sing the praises of Stalin or Nazi Germany. As for all other political forces – even the Communist Party – they are potential allies as long as they accept the minimal demands put forth by the future coalition: restoring democratic institutions in Russia.

Question: What kind of problems does the Russian opposition encounter nowadays?

Garry Kasparov: Our capacities are restricted much more than the Kremlin’s. The Kremlin has huge resources. It can – and does – pluck people out of the opposition by offering them lucrative jobs. The temptation to accept such a job is frequently too strong. Moreover, it’s often a choice between accepting a job and pressure on the individuals and their families.

The Russian political establishment, reared in central Moscow, is accustomed to making deals with the Kremlin. That’s standard operating procedure for them. That is what makes overcoming this trend so difficult.

Question: Are you receiving any financial assistance from oligarchs in exile, such as Leonid Nevzlin?

Garry Kasparov: A great many people are helping us – more than you can imagine. Many of them live in Russia. Since we all know how the authorities react to that, I won’t name any names. I’m sure you understand. Any aid or assistance to us is purely confidential.

Question: And do you personally help any so-called victims of the regime? For example, do you correspond with Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

Garry Kasparov: No, we don’t correspond, though he has my respect. I admire Khodorkovsky’s stamina. I imagine how hard it is for him. I think he’ll only be free when Putin is no longer where he is now.