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Former Chess Champion Kasparov Says Russian Opposition Can Only Exist Outside The Country

Activist and former chess champion Garry Kasparov says there is no opportunity for those who oppose Putin to express their views while remaining in Russia.

VILNIUS -- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy-handed crackdown on dissent at home means that effective opposition to his rule can only exist outside the country, activist and former chess champion Garry Kasparov has told Current Time.

Members of the opposition who have stayed in Russia “have no opportunity to express their views,” Kasparov said in an interview on May 23 from Riga, where he participated in a meeting organized by the Free Russia Forum to discuss the consequences of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

“Political life ended long ago in Russia,” he said.

Over Putin’s more than 22 years as president or prime minister, his government has taken over or shut down nearly all independent media, banned foreign social media platforms, outlawed opposition groups, jailed leading activists, shut civil society organizations, and broadly labeled individuals or entities expressing dissent as foreign agents to discredit them.

Last year, courts sentenced Aleksei Navalny, Putin’s most prominent political opponent, to more than two years in prison for parole violations he denied and outlawed his Anti-Corruption Foundation and other groups after the state labeled them extremist organizations, a designation he and supporters say is absurd.

Kasparov participating in a chess tournament in 2015.
Kasparov participating in a chess tournament in 2015.

This March, Navalny received a new nine-year prison on charges of embezzlement and contempt. The West and human rights organizations have called the targeting of Navalny and his foundation an attempt by Putin to silence dissent.

Navalny’s closest associates have fled the country over the past year for fear of arrest on trumped up charges.

Putin has intensified his crackdown on dissent since ordering the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, signing bills into law that criminalize independent war reporting and protesting the war.

Kasparov said that political opponents of Putin who continue to operate in Russia within the strict confines set by the president only serve to legitimize his rule.

Kasparov did not name any person or organization in particular but expressed disproval of opposition members running for political office.

“Any work within the framework of the mechanism and apparatus of Putin’s state -- the structure that has been built -- strengthens the regime. It convinces him of his rightness, adds legitimacy, and thereby makes the regime stronger,” he said.

He said opposition members should leave if they have the opportunity to do so, arguing that they can have no influence over policy at home.

Kasparov, 59, is now seeking to help Russians opposed to Putin’s rule live abroad following sweeping Western sanctions that have made emigration more difficult.

The West has largely cut flights to Russia and ended banking relationships with the country, hindering the ability of Russians to bank abroad.

Kasparov said he is discussing with European officials a way to improve the rights of Russians living abroad if they sign a three-point declaration denouncing the war, calling Putin’s rule illegitimate, and recognizing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“With such a signed declaration in hand, in my opinion, it is unfair to deprive a person -- just because he has a Russian passport and was born in Russia -- of the opportunity to exercise his rights” including participating in international sporting events, obtaining a residence permit, or opening a bank account, he said.

Kasparov said it should be open to people who previously supported Putin, highlighting actress Chulpan Khamatova, who in 2012 recorded a video supporting the authoritarian leader’s return to the presidency.

Khamatova, who is living in Latvia, has taken part in anti-war protests in the Baltic country.

Kasparov dominated the chess world from 1985 to 2000. A vocal critic of Putin since the early 2000s, he faced repression as he tried to build up the non-partisan, pro-democracy group United Civic Front.

In a sign of what was to come a decade later, Kasparov’s protests against Putin’s rule in the 2000s were violently broken up by police and he was questioned by investigators.

He left Russia for self-imposed exile about a decade ago as repression inside Russia quickly grew with Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.

Russia last week added Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, to its registry of foreign agents following their participation in the Free Russia Forum in Vilnius.

Kasparov told the forum that sanctions against Russia -- which also include bans on technology critical for the functioning of the nation’s industry -- should remain in place until it compensates Ukraine for war damage and those guilty of war crimes are brought to justice.

Written by Todd Prince based on reporting by Timofei Rozhanskiy of Current Time
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    Timofei Rozhanskiy

    Timofei Rozhanskiy is a correspondent in Riga for Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. Born in Russia, he graduated from St. Petersburg State University and also received film and video production training at Bard College in New York. Before joining Current Time’s Moscow bureau in 2019, Rozhanskiy worked for the independent Russian television channel TV Rain.