Garry Kasparov on the War in Ukraine “Everyone Who Is Still in Russia Is Part of This War Machine”
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov believes that the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin will collapse in spring. In an interview, talks about how dangerous Moscow continues to be and what lies ahead for a defeated Russia.
06.10.2022, 19.36 Uhr
Putin critic Garry Kasparov in Berlin: “We are seeing the final showdown.” Foto: Merve Terzi / DER SPIEGEL
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Kasparov, the flag on your lapel is white-blue-white instead of white-blue-red. Is it a made-up flag of the Russia you would like to see?
Kasparov: The idea of washing the red stripe off the Russian flag came up spontaneously among exiled Russians from Riga to San Francisco. Given the current events in Ukraine, we Russians can no longer afford to have the color of blood on our flag. But at the same time, these are the colors of the free Republic of Novgorod from the Middle Ages, and that is historically symbolic.
DER SPIEGEL: Could you please explain?
Kasparov: We are just seeing the final showdown of two versions of Russia: the pro-European Russia and the jingoistic Russia that combines Byzantine ideology and the military machinery of the Golden Horde…
DER SPIEGEL: … the feudalistic Mongol state.
Kasparov: And maybe we are just seeing the opportunity for pro-European Russia to take revenge on imperialist Russia.
DER SPIEGEL: This war is also very clearly your personal reckoning with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What is driving you?
Kasparov: I have been fighting Mr. Putin for 20 years and have always said that his regime is bound to become a fascist threat – not only to Russia, not only to its neighbors, but to the whole world. It would have been nice if a few more people would have heeded these warnings.
“Russia today is a fascist dictatorship.”
DER SPIEGEL: Many Russians who have taken courageous action against Putin find your radical position to be unsettling, in part because you have formulated it from the safety of exile. You have said, for example, that those who want to be on the right side of history should pack their things and leave the country.
Kasparov: It’s war. You’re either on one side of the front or the other. Every Russian citizen, including me, bears collective responsibility for this war. But it’s not the same with personal responsibility. Russia today is a fascist dictatorship that is committing crimes against humanity as we speak. And everyone who is still in Russia now is part of this war machine, whether they want to be or not. About Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov was born in Baku in 1963. His mother was a music teacher and his father a violinist. He learned to play chess at age five and later became a professional player. In 1985, Kasparov, who has Jewish-Armenian roots, won the world chess championship for the first time and defended it until 2000. Kasparov ended his professional chess career in 2005 and became active in Russian politics. In 2013, he went into exile. Since then, he has been active in various organizations against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kasparov lives with his family in New York and in Split. In 2014, he took on Croatian citizenship.
DER SPIEGEL: Not everyone can simply leave the country. Neighboring countries like Lithuania, where you regularly hold your Free Russia Forum with Russians in exile, have closed their borders to Russians.
Kasparov: You can’t just let people travel back and forth. There was no German tourism in London in 1941 either, so I proposed welcoming only those Russians who sign a declaration with three principles: The war is criminal; the Putin regime is illegitimate; and Ukraine is indivisible.
A group of young Russians crossing into Georgia to escape mobilization: “You’re either on one side of the front or the other.” Foto: Zurab Tsertsvadze / AP
DER SPIEGEL: This idea has triggered outrage among many Russians, with people referring to it as a passport for “good Russians” – and one that divides citizens of the country into good and bad.
Kasparov: It’s not about “good” or “bad.” For the Ukrainians, it is important to see that only those Russians are allowed to travel to the West who distance themselves from Putin. And those who sign this declaration would be, according to Putin’s laws, punishable on three counts.
DER SPIEGEL: How long will this war last? Putin just recently announced a mobilization to generate fresh troops for the front.
Kasparov: Putin’s military and economic capacities will have been exhausted by spring. He’ll run out of munitions by April at the latest and the economy won’t even be able to cover the basic needs of the Russians. That is why Putin is in a hurry. He is trying to establish a good starting point for negotiations.
“Putin knows instinctively that losing this war will put his political and physical survival in question.”
DER SPIEGEL: Putin may no longer be able to win, but there is much he can still destroy. He’s not isolated.
Kasparov: It is well known that dictators don’t like losers, and Putin is about to lose the war. Who else does he have? Iran has other problems right now. China is doing nothing for Putin. Kazakhstan has turned its back. Support is shrinking by the day. Even Serbia refused to recognize the so-called referendums. Putin is alone.
DER SPIEGEL: Would you, as a chess player, say that Putin is a rational actor?
Kasparov: Attacking Ukraine was a huge mistake. But after Putin’s past experiences with the Americans, the French and the Germans, it was rational for him to assume that they would let him get away with it. The dictator Putin never played chess, but poker; and he was good at geopolitical poker. He often won with bad cards because his opponents gave in to his bluff. Now he knows instinctively that losing this war will put his political and physical survival in question. He will mobilize all his resources. The question is: At what point will the people around him start looking for an exit strategy for themselves?
DER SPIEGEL: What would a Russian defeat mean?
Kasparov: We know from Russia’s history that every military and geopolitical defeat leads to dramatic changes at home, whether it was the Crimean War in 1855, the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the stalemate in World War I or the end of the Cold War in 1989. But this defeat could be the worst of all because it will be very visible. It will be like 1945 in Germany.
“One thing is, when you see all this on TV, oh, Crimea, how great. But to die for it? No, thank you.”
DER SPIEGEL: That is a bold comparison. Germany was occupied and destroyed. Russia isn’t likely to meet the same fate.
Kasparov: It’s about the feeling of defeat, the realization that the Russian empire is dead. And this realization will come when Crimea is liberated and the Ukrainian flag is flying over Sevastopol, the main port city of Crimea.
DER SPIEGEL: It doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon. Why do you think the Russian aren’t prepared to fight for Crimea?
Kasparov: The people in Moscow and St. Petersburg are already voting with their feet. They are running away. One thing is, when you see all this on TV, oh, Crimea, how great. But to die for it? No, thank you.
DER SPIEGEL: What will come after the collapse you are predicting?
Kasparov: Russia will go through a terrible time. It will take years, if not decades, before the Russians can reconcile with the Ukrainians. The Russian public would certainly not be capable of democracy right away either. But they would have no choice at all but to try to return to Europe, shake off the sanctions and start all over again.
A young reservist in Moscow bids farewell to his parents: “At what point will the people around him start looking for an exit strategy for themselves?” Foto: Yuri Kochetkov / EPA
DER SPIEGEL: There is no alternative to shifting to the West? Is that not just wishful thinking?
Kasparov: If we don’t manage to return to Europe, we will become a satellite state of China. Beijing is just waiting for Russia to collapse. Demographically and economically, that is the biggest threat to our existence. According to official Chinese historiography, nearly half of Russia’s territory is actually China.
DER SPIEGEL: The last collapse that Russia experienced was in 1991, a traumatic experience of instability and economic misery that Russia still hasn’t overcome.
Kasparov: I trust in the abilities of my comrade-in-arms Mikhail Khodorkovsky to organize things in a very short time once the sanctions are lifted. There are still functioning elements of a market economy in Russia.
DER SPIEGEL: After being away for so long, do you still have a sense for normal Russians and what they actually want?
Kasparov: I don’t claim to have a real feel for it, but I can analyze the available data. The majority of Russians did not care much about this war. About 10 percent were against this war on moral grounds, 30 percent were for it and 60 percent simply didn’t care.
DER SPIEGEL: Support for Putin among many Russians is far stronger than the West would like to believe.
Kasparov: As long as he wins! I don’t deny that the majority of Russians would be happy to see Ukraine subjugated. And of course it is morally abhorrent that my compatriots see the Bucha massacre and say: Oh, that’s fake. But now Putin is losing, and that means they have to pay the price for the war.
“If the regime collapses one day, tens of thousands of corrupt officials will have to be replaced.”
DER SPIEGEL: There is no longer an opposition in Russia. But the opposition in exile also seems weak and at odds with each other. In May, you and Mikhail Khodorkovsky founded the Russian Action Committee in Lithuania. But can you even claim to speak for the Russians?
Kasparov: Of course we can’t speak for all of Russia. But we can politically represent those who have left Russia and signed our declaration against the war. That’s what we hope for. And we hope that among these people are those who can provide Russia’s new officialdom. Because if the regime collapses one day, tens of thousands of corrupt officials will have to be replaced. And someone with experience will have to come in. I know, I myself have been outside Russia for 10 years, Mikhail Khodorkovsky too. You need people who have only recently left the country.
DER SPIEGEL: Followers of Alexei Navalny who have recently fled the country don’t seem interested in working with you. His supporters didn’t participate in your exile meeting in Lithuania. Why not? The imprisoned Navalny is certainly the most prominent opposition figure in Russia.
Kasparov: Navalny’s people behave like a sect. They were already not very cooperative within Russia and are keeping to themselves for the time being. I would also like them to say the sentence “Crimea is Ukraine” out loud without tripping over their tongues.
DER SPIEGEL: Navalny has condemned the annexation of Crimea as illegal, but he rejects its automatic return. He says that Crimea isn’t a “sandwich” that can simply be handed back and forth. He is apparently pursuing an approach that is different from yours.
Kasparov: Russia can only recover if it fully accepts the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its other neighbors. The other difference is: We in the Russian Action Committee think that Russia must stop being an empire. And if Tartastan or Chechnya then go their own way, that’s fine. I admire Navalny’s heroism, but his personal sacrifice of going to prison was a big mistake in my view. Politically, it was not a very wise thing to do at a time that calls for a unification of all forces. It would be more productive to have Mr. Navalny here so that we could discuss working together.