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Garry Kasparov: Out Of The Country, But Not Out Of The Picture

Garry Kasparov may be staying away from his homeland for a while, but he has no intention of steering clear of Russian politics.

The chess grandmaster turned opposition figure does not mince his words when he speaks of what he calls the "Hitleresque essence" of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.

"These days, judges rubber-stamp sentences," he told RFE/RL's Russian Service by telephone from New York. "Police commanders give the order to beat and hound people, to arrest them. Governors in the regions can do whatever they like and act like all-powerful lords in their domains."

In one of his first interviews since announcing last week that he "will refrain from returning" to Russia "for the time being" for fear of a politically motivated prosecution, Kasparov said that he is focusing his efforts on trying to get European countries to adopt sanctions against senior Russian officials implicated in human-rights abuses – similar to the so-called Magnitsky list adopted by the United States in 2012.

The U.S. law is named after whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody in 2009 after exposing a massive tax fraud that implicated Russian officials.

According to Kasparov, such sanctions are effective at capturing the attention of Russia's ruling elite.

"If it becomes obvious that for such [human rights violations] there are repercussions connected with the impossibility of traveling to Europe or using the resources stolen in Russia, then Putin’s function as the defender of the ruling elite and the Russian bureaucracy is completely undermined," he says.

Kasparov adds that he knows such measures are effective because the Kremlin is sparing no effort to resist them.

"Putin understands this threat perfectly," he says. "That is why right now all the efforts of Russian diplomacy and Russian lobbyists abroad have been marshaled in opposition to the Magnitsky law."

Uphill Battle

In an interview with “The New Times” published this week, Kasparov said that, before he left Russia, representatives of the Investigative Committee had called his mother twice seeking to determine his whereabouts.

Kasparov said he believes he and other members of the opposition Coordinating Council are in danger of politically motivated prosecution because of their support for the U.S. Magnitsky Act and their calls for Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to be included on the sanctions list.

Kasparov, who turned 50 in April, knows that he faces an uphill battle in convincing European countries to take a step that would so profoundly displease Moscow. He says he believes the Kremlin’s belligerent response to the U.S. law, in actions and comments directed against both Washington and Europe, is intended to "frighten" European governments who are inclined to consider their own Magnitsky legislation.

Russia passed a ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children in response to the Magnitsky law.

Nonetheless, the grandmaster knows this game isn’t over yet and he remains optimistic.

“I think that, despite everything, in the course of the next year there are serious reasons to hope that one European country or a group of them will seriously take up consideration of a Magnitsky law,” he said.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report

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