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Kasparov: “The West ignores history, Putin is ready for anything”

from Federico Fubini

The chess player and dissident: «The situation is similar to the 1930s when Hitler was underestimated. The Russian leader in recent years has always been faithful to his words ».

Garry Kasparov has no doubts. Born a Soviet citizen in Baku (Azerbaijan) 58 years ago, world chess champion for fifteen years until 2000, dissident during communism and open opponent since Vladimir Putin was in the Kremlin, Kasparov has left Russia for years to protect his own safety and now he accuses: “The West is ignoring the historical experience of the 1930s”.

Does that mean that the West underestimates Putin’s determination to attack Ukraine and wreak havoc on Eastern Europe?

“To say he is underestimating is an understatement. Those who underestimate at least recognize a threat, even if they don’t take it very seriously. In the 1930s, France or Britain underestimated Hitler. Today, speaking of undervaluation means ignoring the historical experience, because we have already had the 1930s. It means ignoring what Putin has already done and what he has said. It’s incredible”.

Kasparov, what do you mean?

“Fifteen years ago at the Munich Security Conference, Putin explained his program very clearly. People thought: he will leave, Dimitri Medvedev will come (president from 2008 to 2012, ed.). But I knew that Medvedev was a puppet and nobody listened to me. They explained to me that I did not understand, that there was an evolution in progress, that I was an extremist. Good. In 2007 Putin had said he wanted to put an end to the geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He did not talk about restoring the Soviet Union, but about a Russian sphere of influence. Basically he said he wanted a veto on the right of other countries to join NATO. And in these 15 years he has been true to his words by attacking Georgia, annexing Crimea, starting a war against Ukraine and now effectively taking control of Kazakhstan. And are we still talking about undervaluation? What else where to do? ”

So you think it can actually attack?

“For so many years we have said: Putin would never do that! It would be terrible for his image! And then he did it and always got away with it. ”

In the West, many well-informed people believe that Putin will not invade Ukraine. Do you think they are wrong?

«I’m not saying he will invade Ukraine for sure, but Putin can do anything and get away with it. Did those who now say it will not invade Ukraine foresee the annexation of Crimea? Did they foresee the de facto occupation of Kazakhstan? So these observers hide their helplessness or something worse: the concrete, material interest in continuing a relationship with Putin. Gerhard Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, is on the Russian dictator’s payroll: millions of euros a year in official wages and defines Putin as “clearly democratic”. I am wrong? Many in the West said that Russia was basically a democracy. No, it is a fascist dictatorship. It has destroyed the internal opposition and continues to attack its neighbors. And now look at the requests to NATO: in essence it says that the Atlantic Alliance should dissolve. I don’t think Putin expects that to happen, but he feels so powerful, so arrogant that he can speak to Americans like that. By the way, he completely ignored Ukraine, he ignored France, Great Britain. “

Okay, but will he invade Ukraine or not in your opinion?

“He’ll do it if he thinks he can do it and get away with it. But he doesn’t know if he can control Ukraine because it’s a huge country, it’s not like Georgia. Ukraine will respond to the attack and there are many weapons in Ukraine, although not enough. If America and Europe were more determined and provided Ukraine with the weapons it needs, then I would believe that there will be no invasion ”.

Can international sanctions deter Putin?

“They don’t care. What sanctions are we talking about? Russian gas is still being bought, oil is still being bought, and no assets of any Russian oligarch have been targeted. For now, Putin has not suffered any real consequences for his attacks. Only two things can prevent him from invading Ukraine: the high price he has to pay, because the Ukrainians are ready to fight; and the fact that he has to move part of the troops he had sent to Kazakhstan. By the way: who predicted that he would take control of Kazakhstan, literally overnight? ”

It was a sudden decision in the face of the uprising. Is the Kremlin improvising?

«Putin has always been very consistent in carrying out his program and his program is to regain full control of the former Soviet Union. For this he must find a way to subjugate Ukraine: if not with a military invasion, then through political influence. Twenty-four hours a day, Russian propaganda talks about Ukraine as a failed state. It seems what Molotov said in 1939 after the collapse of Poland: “Poland, this ungainly child of the Warsaw Treaty, has ceased to exist.” For Putin, Ukraine is an awkward child of the collapse of the USSR: it has no right to exist ”.

Is the Russian president using the uprisings in the former USSR countries, from Belarus to Kazakhstan, to carry out his program?

“Knowing how to seize opportunities is important for dictators. It is rare that if they create them themselves, if they do not show up. But this is a dictator who rushes to the rescue of other dictators. Belarus, Kazakhstan and what about Syria? What about Venezuela? As soon as he sees an opportunity to intervene in support of dictators, he is always able to do so. This has diminished the reputation of the free world and particularly of the United States in the eyes of those who fight for freedom, because Putin has been successful in defending the dictators. Those he supported are still in power. If he got away with it in Syria, why not Kazakhstan? It is a domino. I remember when Putin invaded Georgia and the European Union shared the blame equally. It is like saying that when Stalin attacked Finland, Finland was a threat to Leningrad. So I said Ukraine would be next and do you know why? “

“Because I had looked at the map. And once again there was no reaction, because Putin saw that America had already backtracked on Syria. In the Syrian crisis of 2013, with the use of chemical weapons, Obama reneged on the threat to intervene. It was a sign that America was weak and indecisive, Putin understood it this way. It was the beginning of dominoes, it was clear that it would have consequences far beyond Syria. In fact, then we had Crimea, then eastern Ukraine and now Kazakhstan with Belarus in the meantime. Putin acts and the free world is limited to talking ».

Europe needs Russian gas and the Russian market to sell its products. And that’s the problem?

«Let’s forget the Beslan massacre of 2004 or the poisonings in England, let’s start with Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007 on the project to recreate the sphere of influence on other former Soviet countries. Since then Europe has been 15 years old. What has it done to reduce its dependence on Russian gas? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Worse, it has increased gas supplies from Russia. I have talked about Schröder, but I could talk about a long list of high-level politicians who have cooperated with Putin and received money from him. Yet there were many alternatives, many fields elsewhere that could be developed. Instead, it invested in two Nordstream gas pipelines between Russia and Germany. It’s incredible when I hear Europeans say they can’t do anything. Of course, they built their dependence on Russia with their own hands! These politicians are responsible for it, Angela Merkel in the first place. But 80% of Russia’s gas goes to Europe. So who would have the knife on the side of the handle? Yet the European political class is so corrupt that it does not want to do anything against Putin. This is the reason: an overall political and financial corruption ».

The Russian population is poor, with terrible public health indicators, while military spending in proportion to gross product is among the highest in the world …

“Expenditure on police and propaganda is also an issue, not just internal. “Russia Today” among the best funded news channels in the world. It receives more money than Al Jazeera ».

Don’t you think it’s a very precarious balance and sooner or later it can break to Putin’s disadvantage?

«I agree that it is a precarious balance. But not only for Russia, it is also for the rest of the world. We know from history that dictators know only one solution to internal problems: adventures abroad. We see it even now in Kazakhstan: one of the goals is to take control of Kazakhstan’s vast resources in order to bring them to Russia. It won’t cut military spending, Putin. Spending on defense, police and propaganda is growing every year, while everything else is being cut: social security, health, social housing, culture, education. All cut. And I don’t think the Kremlin can redirect resources to society. Corruption in Russia is systemic, so even if Putin tries to bring resources back to the population, the money will be stolen. The system is built to suck up resources, not distribute them down. They give people just enough to survive. Therefore a further deterioration of the situation in Russia will lead to an even more aggressive foreign policy ».

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