Putin's Nemesis

OpinionJournal has an interesting interview today with Russian chess player Garry Kasparov, whom I have quoted before. This time the subject is Kasparov's efforts to restore some semblance of democracy to Russia. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia is almost as authoritarian as it was under the communists. Kasparov wants to change that.

"The Other Russia" is the name of the unlikely left-right coalition conceived by Mr. Kasparov in 2005 and founded last year. It is composed of groups that would normally be at political odds--democrats like Mr. Kasparov, nationalists, socialists, even Bolsheviks. Mr. Kasparov predicts that the Communist Party will join up before the end of the year. "There's still a lot of distrust," he says, with more than a modicum of understatement. "It's a problem, but I don't think it's insurmountable. The big advantage of the Other Russia, and I think it's our biggest accomplishment, is that we've established the principle of compromise, which was not yet seen in Russian politics. It was always confrontation. It was a mentality of a civil war. We eliminated it."

A declaration at the time of the Other Russia's organizing conference last summer reads, "We are gathering together because we are united in our disagreement with the current political course of the Kremlin and united in our alarm for the present and future of our country." The group's sole objective is to find a candidate to run--and win--in the March 2008 presidential elections. Or as Mr. Kasparov puts it with characteristic bluntness: "When a liberal democracy is re-established, everybody goes his or her way."

The Russian Constitution forbids Mr. Putin from running for a third term--though that doesn't quell widespread speculation that the president will ignore the rule of law and do so anyway. He "has the administrative resources" to do so, Mr. Kasparov agrees, but it would be at the price of his legitimacy--both in the West and at home. "I don't think Putin wants to take such a chance."

Mr. Kasparov believes Mr. Putin's "mentality is just to run away--with all the Russian billionaires. This is the richest ruling elite in the world. They are way ahead of the Saudi princes. They are mega-rich. When you're so rich, you have to make sure that your funds are safe." But "if Putin goes, then who will be in charge? That's a big problem. Then it's instability. An authoritarian regime cannot have a successor while the big name [Mr. Putin] is still alive, much less well, young and strong." MORE

What happens in Russia is critical to our future. With a large nuclear arsenal, it is still the closest thing to another Superpower that could challenge the U.S. Russia also holds the key to much of the world's energy supplies. It is a culture whose population is literally shrinking by 700,000 people every year. Unless trends change, this vacuum will be filled by someone; the most likely candidates are Muslim.

Kasparov's efforts need to bear fruit if the West is to avoid disaster. The Pope knows this, too; he is working hard to bring the Orthodox churches, most of whom are in Russia, back into communion with Rome. If they succeed the world could change in amazing ways.

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