Playboy: Do Russians actually blame America, not Putin, for the nation's problems? Or is this government propaganda as well?
Kasparov: Both. America and the West pay the price for democracy's failure to provide better living standards for the majority of Russians, because democracy is their product. It works in America and the West, so Russians think it must be a conspiracy. They look at the oligarchs in Russia and blame American spies. People are not keen to look at themselves as the source of trouble. But they are beginning to see. They see through the lies and corruption. We must change their frustration into action.
Playboy: Is there any hope for free and fair elections?
Kasparov: Yes. From 1999 onward the quality of every election has gotten worse and worse. The opposition -- from the left and the right -- can never really challenge the regime hrough elections. If under Yeltsin a byzantine system coexisted with elements of democracy, Putin is putting the nails in the coffin of democracy. Now we are left with the corrupt Putin regime with its elements of a feudal system, Latin American dictatorship, oligarchs, a Mussolini corporate state and a Mafia. Where is the democracy? Gone. But the system will fail. It will collapse, or the Russian people will get to the point where they will no longer tolerate it. I wouldn't give this regime more than two years, maximum.
Playboy: What will happen within the next two years?
Kasparov: People will continue to be dissatisfied. They will not accept this corrupt regime. I cannot tell you exactly what the change will look like, but there will be a change.
Playboy: Do you envision violent change, or might there be a peaceful revolution like the ones in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan?
Kasparov: The Other Russia organization is an alternative to revolution, but we don't know the future. There may be a collapse of the country because the current stability is an illusion. Beneath, there's a volcano ready to erupt. Eighty-five percent of the country is not doing well. Even most of the other 15 percent are feeling the ground is shaky. The banking system will collapse. The prosperity is an illusion. When the financial crisis hits here -- and it is coming when all major financial institutions write off their subprime credit papers -- there will be a big money hole and money now in Russia's banks will be recalled. Tens of billions of dollars will leave the country. So I am certain that in 2008 Russia will face a social and economic crisis. The infrastructure is collapsing, including the infrastructure of the oil export business. Money isn't being invested, because everyone with access to money is hoarding it, depositing it in foreign banks. Meanwhile, the Kremlin gets more desperate and reckless. We have seen it has no allergy to blood.
Playboy: Whose blood? Do you directly blame Putin's administration for the deaths of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, as well as those of opposition leaders who have been killed?
Kasparov: Those, and we have a lot of questions about other murders. The explosions in the apartment blocks in 1999, for example.
Playboy: Putin blamed Chechen rebels for the bombings, which killed 300 people. But former security agent Alexander Litvinenko blamed the FSB, the successor to the KGB. There is speculation that Litvinenko was murdered in London with a dose of polonium-210 because of this accusation.
Kasparov: There is evidence it was the FSB. They kill people; they don't care. And Politkovskaya. It's not a pretty picture.
Playboy: Do you maintain Putin directly gave the orders for those murders?
Kasparov: I don't think it works this way. I think it's Putin's irritation: "Why are these people making a fuss, causing us trouble?"
Playboy: Are you saying his irritation is enough to cause a murder?
Kasparov: That's the way the Mafia works. Someone takes care of a nuisance. The boss never has to say the words, right? They do whatever they want in Russia, and sometimes they do whatever they want outside of Russia.
Playboy: Who specifically commits murder? Does the Kremlin order the FSB to do it? Is it other former KGB agents working for individuals?
Kasparov: It's not the Kremlin but a very small group, Putin's inner circle, that conducts it. It's a Mafia-style dictatorship. When we think of dictatorship, most people think about Stalin and Hitler. But it's the 21st century, and you can have a different kind of dictator. You don't need mass repression. You can do handpicked repressions through assassination and arrest. You remove Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, this guy and that guy. You suppress here and there. You do what it takes to make sure you keep the balance.
Playboy: Don't the perpetrators fear repercussions for such outrageous behavior?
Kasparov: What repercussions? Actually Putin and his cronies don't understand why Litvinenko or these others are so important. If a foreign journalist or world leader criticizes them, they think, How can we let one person's life stand in the way of our relations? That's their mentality. If sometimes it doesn't work, they think it's a conspiracy. Putin thinks, What are they trying to gain by pointing to Politkovskaya? For them it's a strategic move, like in chess.
Playboy: In your opinion does Putin actually believe it's a conspiracy, or does he use that to explain away criticism?
Kasparov: He believes it's a conspiracy. If somebody doesn't want to play the game -- if they don't want to take the money -- it's a conspiracy, what else? If CNN runs a bad story about Putin, they firmly believe it's because Condoleezza Rice called CNN. It's the way their minds work. Their idea is that money talks. Their idea is that democracy and human rights are all tricks of America and Europe to promote their own geopolitical interests. Unfortunately, Bush has helped them.
Playboy: How has Bush helped them?
Kasparov: His arrogant actions in the past few years convinced them that's the case. The war on terror, the war in Iraq, the Halliburton story, torture -- they all prove these values are a cover-up. They prove to Putin and his people that the West doesn't really care about them, either. It's a big joke. Bush talks about promoting democracy in Iraq, but in Russia we see he doesn't really care about democracy. He undermines it, betrays it. So it's easy for the people in Russia to be cynical. "Yes, we're as democratic as you are" -- Russians say it with a wink. But as I say, this is beginning to change. The Russian people are beginning to see through Putin's lies. He says there is great prosperity in Russia, that our country is doing so well, that the state treasury is flowing with money. People think, Then why is my life getting worse? That's what they feel. It is sinking in. They see the bureaucrats getting rich. They start to understand maybe it's not because of an American plot but because Putin is eliminating democratic freedoms. Maybe there's a connection. It's a very slow process of education. The moment the people make the full connection will be the end of Putin's regime.
Playboy: Are the media controlled to the point that the average person doesn't know the elections and polls are rigged? Do Russian citizens know about the murders?
Kasparov: The control of the media is tremendous. There are very few free media outlets available. We have one free radio station. A few newspapers may carry stories about Other Russia and other opposition to Putin. There's no television that isn't 100 percent controlled by the state.
Playboy: In China the Internet is a source of news that's largely beyond the state's control. How about in Russia?
Kasparov: Information on the Internet is pretty free.
Playboy: Do you use the technology to challenge Putin's regime, to organize and publish accurate news?
Kasparov: We have a very active web community, but the problem is, out of the 18 million people who have the Internet, only 10 percent use it for politics. The rest use it for shopping and entertainment. The Internet is reliable, but as a political tool it is still relatively small. The only meaningful medium in Russia is television, and it is completely controlled. Basically, it's a brainwashing machine. But we try to use the Internet. Now we're working on a website that will show how activists in Other Russia are losing their jobs, being sacked from universities every day. Relatives are threatened and some are arrested. We're not just using words, saying, "The Putin regime is oppressive." There is a Russian and English website, theotherrussia.org, where we will show the faces. For instance, we will show the face of a 20-year-old girl in Orenburg who is in jail for allegedly having two grams of heroin. She organized one of the rallies there.
And we will show the saddest example for us: A member of Other Russia named Yury Chervochkin, a brave activist who died in the neurosurgery wing of the Burdenko research institute in December. He was 22 years old. The UBOP [Department of Fighting Organized Crime, another Kremlin police organization] Special Forces were implicated in his death. In November he was violently beaten in a suburb of Serpukhov. He was found unconscious. Contradicting witnesses, UBOP officers have claimed Chervochkin was found in a different place. But an hour before he was attacked he called in to the editorial offices of the Sobrok@ru news agency and told them he was being watched by four UBOP agents whom he recognized from previous encounters when he had been detained.
That's what's happened with these people, yet they're still fighting. It's important for us to present to all of Russia and the West that this isn't about Garry Kasparov or a few people in Moscow. It's a vast country with a movement that is spreading. The regime is quite aggressive, arrogant and cruel. It's not mass oppression -- not Stalin, not gulags -- but tough. Have you ever faced a police line ready to attack you? We have no other choice. I'll be in the front row. If we're arrested we reveal the true colors of the regime.
Playboy: Is the government immune to criticism from the West?
Kasparov: They balance very carefully what they can get away with. They attack the West and blame it for our problems; they blame democracy and a Western conspiracy against the Russian people and criticize the hypocrisy of Bush and the rest, but at the same time Putin can't afford to break relations with the West. Where are the billions of dollars Putin and the others have stolen from the Russian people? The entire fortune of the Russian elite is not in Russia. It's not in China, not in Iran, not in Libya. It's in London, Riga, Prague, Brussels and America.
Playboy: Do you know how much money Putin has?
Kasparov: How much has he stolen from the Russian people? Is he in the same category as Bill Gates? We'll see. He's the king of the billionaires, so he must be the richest one.
Playboy: How do you view President Bush's response to the charge that Putin's people, if not Putin himself, are responsible for assassinations and arrests? How has Bush responded to the dismantling of democratic institutions, including fair elections, in Russia?
Kasparov: I'm not a big fan of President Bush, as you can guess, but it's not only him. Look at Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi -- unlike Bush and Tony Blair, they were Putin's business partners. They all supported him. But Bush and the others turn a blind eye, and meanwhile this strongman has thrived.
Playboy: How has Bush turned a blind eye?
Kasparov: He says nothing about most of the assaults on democracy in Russia. He says nothing to Putin and continues to do business with him. Putin is allowed to come to the G8. It should be renamed the G7+1. Again and again no one says anything against Putin.
Playboy: In fact, criticism from the West is increasing. The last election was denounced.
Kasparov: Putin is immune unless he hears a firm reaction from the top man. He doesn't care about clerks, even Condoleezza Rice. Only a message from the top counts. Everything else is a game. When Putin made some of the statements that implied he could stay in office for a third term, he didn't hear anything from Bush. There was no reaction. President Bush, you stuck up for him; you looked into his eyes. Why are you silent now? Instead, what does Putin hear? Condoleezza Rice says, "We'd rather have him inside than outside the tent."
Playboy: She's not the only one. Bush and many politicians and political strategists say engagement will ultimately lead to openness and transparency, the rule of law, freedom of the press and the other characteristics of a functioning democracy.
Kasparov: This philosophy has never worked before. Churchill said, "No matter how beautiful the strategy, occasionally you must check the results." For seven years, with engagement by the West and with the influx of capitalism, Putin destroyed all democratic institutions in Russia. So we all remember that Bush said he looked into Putin's eyes. Putin looked into Bush's eyes as well. He saw he could push Bush's limits. Every time he pushes he tests the waters. He pushes and Bush does nothing. Putin is a psychologist. He knows how to manipulate. He is on all sides -- the West and Iran and Hezbollah.
Playboy: In fact, Bush and Rice have expressed hope that Russia can help stabilize the growing problem with Iran and other Middle Eastern nations.
Kasparov: Putin exploits tension in the Middle East and creates more.
Playboy: Why would he create more?
Kasparov: Putin needs high oil prices. If oil goes down, his regime collapses. It's why he sells weapons to Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas. This past year Putin seemed to increase his ties to enemies of the U.S. and the West. He has been supplying Hamas in Palestine and selling military equipment to Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela, and missile technology to North Korea. Why?
Playboy: Indeed, why?
Kasparov: It's two ways of making profit. One is cash. These industries are all controlled by his guys, so there's lots of cash. But he also backs these regimes to create tension in these oil-rich regions. The more tension, the higher the oil prices. He needs tension because it muddies the waters, and he thrives in muddy waters. If you look at the places of instability around the world, you'll always find Putin's traces. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Hugo Chávez -- they keep the Middle East boiling. It's a very rational policy if you need high oil prices. Putin is a KGB guy. He looks at your eyes and he smells whether he can move further or if he should go back. Now he thinks, We have so much money, we can dictate our terms. For his attacks on the values of the West and on democracy, he has been rewarded with polite comments and now the Sochi Olympics. It's the triumph of Russian corruption over international institutions. See, Putin, as a psychologist, is much smarter than Bush. Putin realized all these big guys were not as strong, not as smart -- he could easily outplay them. Basically he does what he wants, manipulates them and does more of what he wants. He keeps oil prices high, keeps tension in the Middle East, becomes a necessary ally but on his terms.
Playboy: Has anyone in the West stood up to Putin?
Kasparov: Putin's biggest disappointments were in October of last year, a day or two after Politkovskaya was murdered. He was in Germany and offered a big deal to German chancellor Angela Merkel: Russia has gas, and Germany would be the distributor. Responding to the murder, Merkel said no. Putin was devastated. Next there was a meeting in Finland, and the European countries turned down a similar proposal. He was stunned because he believes everything and everyone has a price. The EU's Organization for Security and Cooperation refused to come to Russia to monitor this past December's parliamentary elections because Putin was not cooperating with visas and they would have been restricted. This shocked Putin. These are very good signs. Finally some of the Western leadership is showing they have reached their limits and won't play his game. Putin's fundamental dilemma, the problem that cannot be resolved, is that he wants to rule like Stalin and live like Abramovitch.
Playboy: You're referring to Roman Abramovitch, the oil tycoon and 11th richest man in the world.
Kasparov: Yes, and Putin wants to rule like Chávez or the Iranian mullahs and be all-powerful and at the same time be welcomed with open arms at the Bush ranch in Texas.