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Russia: Oppositionist Kasparov Says Country Heading For Crisis

Garry Kasparov speaking to journalists in Prague today (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former world chess champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov spoke today to a group of journalists, including RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, at the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague. Kasparov is the leader of the opposition umbrella group Other Russia.

On Putin:

"He acts as a CEO of a corporation. Putin does business. For him, every element even of foreign policy is a bargaining chip. He is negotiating and his main interest is to make sure that Europe and the United States are not interfering in Russian domestic affairs at this very sensitive period of power transition. So that's why for him every big issue, like the missile shield, is a bargaining chip. I think that they should recognize that Putin does all these political negotiations as part of a business deal, and they should treat him accordingly because somebody who is engaged in business negotiations has a very different agenda and it might be Putin's strength if it's not recognized, but eventually it will be his weakness because he is not speaking on behalf of the country but only on behalf of the VIP shareholders of this corporation.

"Putin can't afford to be another [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka, first, because he hates the idea. I mean, he wants to enjoy life and to not just sit on his billions, but also, he represents the ruling class that hates the idea of being isolated from the world they believe they belong to. So, that is why they have to be at the edge, so it is like not crossing this thin red line. They have to tighten their control in Russia but, at the same time, they can't afford a full-scale confrontation with the free world."

On the U.S. plans for a missile shield:

"I don't think this issue is relevant for a majority of Russians. If you look at the foreign issues that are at stake now, I think only the issue of Kosovo could resonate in the minds of Russians because of the historical relations with Serbia. Otherwise, you know, look -- if it's there, it's there. I don't think it is a big deal. Many Russians will accept the concept of dealing with Americans and building together the system. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with the offer that Americans proposed to Putin. But, I want to emphasize that Putin is using it for his own benefits because he is ready to drop all objections if Americans and Europeans will stop messing around with Russian democracy and human rights."

On the possibility of a crisis in Russia:

"I think [squashing dissent] will backfire because the Putin regime, now, is facing an old paradox. It is an authoritarian regime. It is a police state, which masquerades as a democracy. But, at the same time, the interests of the ruling elite are lying in the West, in the free world. They can talk as much as they want about China, India, and new oriental policies, but their money, the fortunes, assets, soccer clubs, kids -- everything is in the free world.

"I think that a crisis [in Russia] is inevitable, and even intimidated crowds, having no choice, will rise, because living conditions in Russia are deteriorating and most Russians are seeing no benefits from these high oil and gas prices.

"In chess, obviously we have rules. Dealing with Putin's Kremlin, we know that the only rule is that there are no rules. Or in fact, the opponents change rules upon their convenience."

"Those two scenarios combined are highly unlikely, so I think that Russia will inevitably sink into a political crisis, a deep political crisis, by the end of the fall, the beginning of next winter. And it means that many groups in the Kremlin that will be engaged in this fierce fighting and those who will be on the losing side might look for allies because losing the battle in a lawless jungle, losing the battle within the mafia structure means not only losing power but also losing a fortune or even worse, while being part of this democratic process could mean losing power but guaranteeing immunity for their fortunes."

On Russia and the G8:

"Inviting Putin [to the G8] as one of the equals created a very bad atmosphere for us in Russia because any time we are trying to criticize Putin and to look at his record, sending the message to the Russian people that Putin has destroyed democratic institutions, Kremlin propaganda shows these pictures with Putin and [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder and [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi and saying, 'Look, they receive him as an equal, so who are these radicals, marginals, extremists that are criticizing Putin?'

"We believe that the U.S. administration owes us very strong statements about the current situation in Russia. Again, it's not anti-Putin or it should not be Other Russia, pro-Kasparov. We want them to support democratic institutions in Russia, so that the basic values that made Europe Europe and America America -- Putin should get an unequivocal message: 'You cannot act as Lukashenka and be treated as a democratic leader. So behave yourself or you will not be part of this exclusive club.'

"We can hope that the whole atmosphere will change because Putin used to sit surrounded by his business partners like Schroeder and Berlusconi or by his friends: Schroeder, Berlusconi, [then French President Jacques] Chirac, Bush, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair. Now it's a different atmosphere. Now he's no longer -- he might be treated as equal but he understands that the message is that he, Putin, doesn't belong there.

"They could keep this atmosphere, I think that would be a strong message not only to Putin but also to his allies in Russia because they can't afford to break up relations with the West. They can't afford a new Iron Curtain, they can't afford a new Cold War, because this regime carries no ideology. When I hear stories about a new Cold War, I'm laughing because the Cold War was always based on ideas. Putin's only idea is: 'Let's steal together.'

On lessons Russia can learn from Ukraine:

"I think that certain lessons, especially from Ukraine, can be learned in Russia. It's to establish the culture of compromise, the culture of consensus, because at the end of the day, any peaceful revolution, whether you call it the Velvet Revolution or the Orange Revolution, is based on the consensus between the street protests and part of the bureaucracy, part of nomenklatura that understands that there is no other way but to start looking for national consensus.

"It seems to me that Russia might enter a similar period at the end of this year, because if you look at the possible scenarios of power transition in March 2008, the two most likely scenarios from the foreign perspective are that Putin is staying there for a third term, or there is a successor who unifies all the factions. In my view they are highly unlikely."

On Belarus:

"Look, they have their own problems, similar to ours. As many Russians joke, sadly, 'Our train is approaching Minsk Station rapidly.' And, of course, sharing the negative experience is useful but, at the same time, we understand we are fighting different regimes. But, at the same time, I think that the collapse of Putin's regime will help them and, also, the collapse the Lukashenka regime will help us."

On chess and politics:

"In chess, obviously we have rules. Dealing with Putin's Kremlin, we know that the only rule is that there are no rules. Or in fact, the opponents change rules upon their convenience. But I think we are somewhere in the middle game and for us, it's the end of the beginning. And for Putin, it's the beginning of the end."

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