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Kasparov Says Putin Playing Poker, Not Chess

Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov

The West needs to get tougher with Moscow over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to leading Russian opposition figure and chess legend Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov made the remarks in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service on the sidelines of the recent Global Forum in the Polish city of Wroclaw.

Kasparov noted during the June 12 interview that following the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 in exchange for guarantees from the United States, Great Britain, and Russia that its territorial integrity would be respected.

That was shattered when Russia annexed Crimea in early 2014.

Kasparov, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, said arming Ukraine would fulfill some of the obligations the West undertook when it signed the Budapest Memorandum.

"Ukraine should be provided with, at the very least, antitank missiles and other defensive arms," Kasparov explained. "The main thing is to strengthen the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Army, and that will raise the stakes for Putin and his aggression."

Kasparov was asked whether Western sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine were strong enough.

Convincing The Elite

He replied that the issue wasn't whether the sanctions were weak or not, but the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin didn't take them "seriously."

"Inside Russia, he [Putin] has been successful in convincing the Russian elite and Russian middle class that these measures [sanctions] were imposed by Western elites only as a result of public pressure," Kasparov .

He added that, for Putin, politics is a lot like poker, not chess.

"In poker, unlike chess, the strength of your position is important, but not everything. You can compensate for [a weak hand in poker] by bluffing your opponent," Kasparov said. "Putin is masterful at exploiting this weakness that has developed in the West over the past 25 years. The West, through its leaders and those who vote for them, are not ready for serious confrontation. As a result, Putin is just blatantly bluffing."

Putin will not back down until Western leaders "demonstrate political will," Kasparov said, stressing that the West must send a clear and uncompromising message to the Russian president.

"If Russia does not return to the status quo -- before 2014 [before the annexation of Crimea] -- there should be no talk of lifting sanctions, or of warmer relations," Kasparov said. "There should be a clear message from the West: Putin's Russia will not be embraced by the free world and will remain an outcast."

Kasparov said Putin was not interested in securing new territory, but rather in disrupting the existing order.

"He needs chaos. He needs a situation in which existing institutions will be discredited," Kasparov explained. "In fact, any operation in his hybrid war -- even with minimum success, in any NATO country -- will mean that NATO is weak, and that Putin has scored another victory."

In the end, Kasparov says, the West needs come up with a "serious and long-term" plan to deal with Putin, whom the chess master describes as a fighter interested in his own political survival.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky, based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Franak Viachorka
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