Garry Kasparov, considered to be one of the greatest chess players in history having held the number one spot for a record-setting 255 months, and a leading voice in the Russian opposition, sat down with the Kyiv Post’s correspondent Jason Jay Smart to discuss how the West can pressure Putin, the scandal embroiling the chess world today, and what the future of Ukraine will be.
How do you think that Putin’s calculus about the war in Ukraine has changed?
Well, analyzing war games is not the same as chess games. However, judging from what I have heard and can analyze, it looks clear that Ukraine is doing much better. It’s still too early to say that it’s done. We will still have many more months of exhaustive fighting because Russia still has many more resources to throw into the flames of the war. However, the news is encouraging.
There’s a factor that’s underestimated by the West: It’s the psychological factor. Morale is always a problem, just as is military equipment. And today, the morale of the Russian soldiers is deteriorating. Alternatively, it seems that the Ukrainians are at the point where they’re willing to bear any cost to liberate their country and defeat the enemy.
The continuation of the war will have a dramatic effect inside of Russia. You have wounded soldiers coming back to the poor countryside. We don’t know the exact numbers but the latest leak from the Ministry of Defense put the death toll at 50k. That’s a big number to deal with, even for Russia.
Those who were mobilized or were wounded will cause chaos. Here in America we know this post-war syndrome. These returning soldiers will cause problems.
The situation in Russia will deteriorate. The war in Ukraine isn’t going Russia’s way. Sanctions have not destroyed the country but they continue biting. They are having an effect.
So, combined – between the war in Ukraine going badly and sanctions – we will see if Putin is able to maintain his grip on power.
You understand Putin and how he and the power structure around him thinks. What are they doing with the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant? Also, do you think that Putin would use nuclear weapons?
All of these questions about nukes are very hypothetical. Putin has never dealt with situations like this one. This crisis is different for him.
Putin’s been lucky that he has always been able to escape. His opponents always folded their cards instead of calling his bluff. I think we’re now at the point in history where even the very mediocre leadership of the free world realized that we had no other choice but to call Putin’s bluff.
I think that Putin realizes his tricks won’t work as they did before. That’s why we aren’t hearing the same bold threats, the brazen threats, from Putin’s generals or Putin’s entourage who were formally saying “we will use whatever weapons,” etc. They seem to be finding a middle ground: Not to drop threats all together, because they understand that If NATO is dragged in, then it would be a disaster for them.
Then what’s next?
Basically, the war is lost. If you look at all of the objectives that Putin set for the war, all of them have failed. All of them. So, continuing the war is the only way for Putin to stay in power. He wants to create extra chaos in the free world hoping that a new window will open for him. It’s really just a protracted agony. It is cynical and stupid, but Putin is willing to put thousands of civilians into graves in the months to come before the whole of Ukraine is liberated, if that will allow him to maintain power.
You just had your Congress for a Free Russia a few days ago. How was it? What do you see coming with the opposition?
It was a huge success. We had over 500 participants in Vilnius. The biggest we ever had.
We had a very impressive list of foreign participants: High level leaders. They demonstrated that the Russian Action Committee, the group I founded with Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, is the main voice of the Russian opposition in exile.
We had the former President of Estonia and Ministers of Foreign Affairs from Lithuania and Latvia. Interestingly, the British parliamentarian who headed the Foreign Affairs Committee, was appointed as Minister of State Security by Liz Truss just a couple of days later.
We had a great panel on sanctions with Bill Browder and Ambassador Mike McFaul.
I ran a panel called “The war in Ukraine: The last war of Russia?” There’s a group I call the coalition of the willing: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Great Britain.
What do you propose the West do now?
We believe that the free world must do everything to help Ukraine win. There’s no other solution: Unconditional victory of Ukraine – and the unconditional defeat of Putin.
The only chance to defeat Putin’s fascism is to raise the Ukrainian flag in Sevastopol, Crimea. That’s the top priority for anyone who wants to see our planet safe from Putin’s existential threat of destruction.
We believe that Europe should demonstrate its resolve by banning Russian tourism all together – total ban on Russian tourists.
At the same time, we believe that those Russians who wish to leave Putin’s “North Korea,” as we jokingly call it, and who wish to come to “South Korea” and the free world, should be given this opportunity if they sign a decree simple that the war is criminal, Putin’s regime is illegitimate, and that Ukraine is whole. We are seeking a combined approach.
We hope that friendly governments will understand and that’s why we are already talking to a number of governments about this. There’s likely around 100,000 Russians who are ready to completely cut all ties with Putin’s Russia.
Let me ask you a couple of questions from Kyiv Post readers: What do you think of the NRA
Who is behind the organization then?
I don’t know. I’m not an expert in fakes. You know, Ponomarev is using this to advertise his own agenda. I think it’s falling apart, and unfortunately, it has had some ramifications for people inside of Russia as the Putin government has been arresting people inside of Russia because of this. These fakes could have lethal effects for people who could otherwise be safe.
The chess world has been rocked by a scandal as top-ranked champion Magnus Carlsen quit the St. Louis Sinquefield Cup a couple of days ago. What do you make of this?
I don’t know all the details about the scandal in St. Louis where Carlsen pulled out after his match with Hans Niemann and he came just short of accusing his opponent of cheating. And I don’t wish to speculate.
But, I think that Carlsen’s decision is unacceptable. As a world champ he has a responsibility to the game. Showing this disrespect to the players and organizers, St. Louis is the most prestigious tournament in the world, and it is absolutely wrong to do what he did.
Carlsen must at least provide an explanation. You can’t just walk away and so far, he’s done just that. That bothers me a lot.
Do you think that Putin is a threat to you and your security?
Probably. But thinking about it doesn’t help.
If there was something that you could tell Ukrainians: What would you tell them?
Their heroism is so refreshing at a time of cynicism. I wish them strength. I believe that we all owe them big. I don’t think we could ever compensate them for the sacrifices they’ve made, not just for their country, but for freedom around the world.
As a Russian citizen – though with the longest record of fighting Putin – I still feel responsible for the suffering that the Ukrainians are suffering and caused by Putin’s criminal regime. We will never be able to repay Ukraine for their sacrifices, heroism, and spirit. Ukraine is a beacon to the free world.
What Ukraine has done has reminded all of us that we had values and ideas worth fighting for – and dying for.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.