As the Obama administration sends its first envoys to Moscow to “press the reset button” with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, they would be wise to listen to former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a prominent leader of the Russian opposition.
Newsmax spoke with Kasparov during a recent trip to Washington, where he offered candid advice to Congress and the new administration on how the United States should deal with Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer who has become Russia’s “new czar.”
Kasparov didn’t mince words. He called on the United States to “treat this regime the way it deserves to be treated. They are criminals, and we expect you to stand up to them as Ronald Reagan did.”
In a wide-ranging discussion of Putin, the invasion of Georgia, and what he called the Russian “mafia state,” Kasparov also criticized President George W. Bush for his belief that Putin was a democratic leader, to whose better nature the United States could appeal.
Bush and many West European leaders made a “fundamental mistake” when it came to Putin, thinking he was just “one of them.” Kasparov argued that Putin and the clique of former KGB officers he has surrounded himself with are “alien” to Western values.
“They don’t believe in the same values, and this is very important,” Kasparov said. “You cannot be misled by the expensive suits they are wearing, the real estate they are buying, the luxury jets and the yachts. It’s just a cover. The core values of our civilization, the core values of democracy, they simply deny.”
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should not repeat the mistakes that Bush made in thinking they can win Putin’s favor.
“The choice is not whether they like you or not,” Kasparov said of Putin and his cronies. “It’s not whether you can earn their love. They will always hate you. Your choice is whether this hate is mixed with fear or contempt. So far, it is the later, and it’s time for you to change that.”
Today’s Russia is not a democracy, but a Mafia state, he insisted. “It’s Mafia loyalty that keeps them together and it’s a very strong affiliation. This is the first time that a Mafia structure is in charge of a nuclear weapons state.”
Many analysts in the West mistakenly attribute Putin’s brazen suppression of dissidents and the invasion of Georgia to nationalism. But authentic Russian nationalists have criticized Putin for giving disputed Pacific islands to Japan and China.
“Putin is the first Russian leader in recent history to give away sovereign Russian territory,” Kasparov pointed out.
Russia hasn’t willingly parted with territory since the sale of Alaska to the United States, “and at least with Alaska, we were paid money,” Kasparov said. Putin gave away the islands as a “good will gesture” to win diplomatic support from Japan, and to placate a Chinese regime that has become the single larges buyer of Russian weaponry.
Putin and his allies have “a lot of loose cash to spend,” and they use it to bolster their own power. “They eliminate their opponents. They buy politicians. They buy services. They buy connections. These are the same tactics used by Lucky Lucianno.”
Putin’s use of state resources is more subtle than during Communist times. “It’s not about taxes and bullets. It’s about oil and gas and cash,” Kasparov said.
Putin’s brazenness has been on display in the gangland style murders of Russian journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, and former KGB spy turned dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London with Polonium 210, a nuclear material that has been traced back to a Russian government lab.
The U.S. and Europe have mistakenly “used democracy as a “bargaining chip” when dealing with Putin’s Russia, Kasparov said.
“If he hears something about democracy and human rights he believes it is a trick and that he is being cheated. He believes you are breaking the rules of the game.”
This is what happened when the U.S. and Europe threatened to withdraw the 2012 Winter Games from Russia following the invasion of Georgia, which Kasparov claims was planned months in advance.
“Putin needs Abkhazia and South Ossetia because they protect Sochi,” home of the future Olympic Village. “Sochi is a mega project. For Putin it is like Peter the Great building St. Petersburg. He is building his legacy in the south of Russia.”
The Olympic village is being built on the grounds of an Orthodox Christian cemetery. Local residents have been evicted from their homes without compensation, but the West “turned a blind eye to that,” Kasparov says.
To win the games for Sochi from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Kasparov suggested that Putin paid substantial bribes to IOC members during secret meetings in Guatemala, in a mansion the Russia government bought for the purpose.
“They bought the house, because there was no Russian embassy there. They sealed the area so Putin could meet with 50 members of the IOC one by one.”
Shortly after the closed door meetings, the IOC rejected a competing bid from South Korea to host the 2012 Games. “I guess Putin found a lot of strong arguments,” Kasparov said.
When the IOC suggested after the invasion of Georgia that it might reconsider the 2012 decision, Putin was furious.
”What is that? You want to put up the price? Fine, we negotiate the price,” Kasparov described Putin as thinking. “If he hears something about democracy and human rights he believes it is a trick, because he has already paid the price. He feels the West is changing the rules.”
Dissidents inside Russia are under real pressure and threat of death. “Free speech in Russia is shrinking,” Kasparov warned.
He noted ruefully the decision by the Voice of America to end its Russian-language radio broadcasts just days before the invasion of Georgia last August, even though the programs were “old-fashioned” and mainly reached nationalist and communist audiences in the countryside.
“The moment the Russian invasion of Georgia began, Internet traffic on opposition sides rose four times,” he said.
Kasparov’s own servers crashed from the traffic and as a result of malicious hackers. He had to relocate them overseas.
Kasparov predicts trouble for Putin and his cronies as the Russia economy feels the consequences of the worldwide collapse of financial markets.
Already, before the collapse, Russian credit card companies were charging customers 25 percent interest. Since then, jobs have evaporated, gasoline prices have skyrocketed to European levels of over $7.00 a gallon, and inflation has soared.
“Putin is sitting on a volcano,” Kasparov said. “Revolutions don’t happen in the poorest countries, but in countries with the greatest social disparity. Putin’s economic policies have created tremendous disparity,” even when the economy was booming in 2006 and 2007.
Moscow is one of the world’s most expensive cities, at yet average workers earned around $1,200 per month. “There are lots of people who are living just on the edge of hope.”
His advice to the new U.S. administration: stand firm with Putin on democracy and human rights and avoid using double standards.
“One thing we do not want to see again is building democracy in Iraq or someplace else at the expense of Russia. Let’s always be on the same side of the picture, on the side of democracy. “
He suggested the U.S. and Western powers prosecute a member of Putin’s regime – for the murder of Litvenenko, or some other crime – to show Putin and his cronies that integration into the Western world comes at a price.
“Show them that the price is respect for the root values of Western society, and that there are certain things that can’t be bought,” he said.
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