Russian chess legend says war in Ukraine is a ‘battle between freedom and tyranny’

NEW YORK — Chess is a brain game, but legendary Soviet grandmaster Garry Kasparov can make it seem like a contact sport. When he was at the height of his power in the mid-1980s, he approached the chessboard with the high physical intensity of a wrestler sent to the wrong match.

Today, his unrelenting energy is focused entirely on opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Kasparov taking the same special interest he once reserved for his Soviet nemesis Anatoly Karpov — who now serves as a pro-Putin member of parliament. But if the Kremlin autocrat hates him, nothing will make Kasparov angry about how much and how long the West should help Ukraine.

“Putin is not only attacking Ukraine. He is attacking the entire system of international cooperation,” Kasparov said in a recent interview with Yahoo News. “Ukraine is at the forefront of this battle between freedom and tyranny.”

Garry Kasparov, seated, holds a microphone with his right hand and gestures with his left hand.

Garry Kasparov at the Congress of Free Russia in Vilnius, Lithuania, September 1. (Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Last week’s U.S. Congressional elections could make aid to Ukraine more difficult, especially if Republicans’ suspicions of open resistance deepen. Speaking at a news conference last week, President Biden expressed hope that aid to Ukraine would continue, but also bristled at accusations that he has given too much to Ukraine.

“We didn’t give Ukraine a blank check,” the president told reporters, referring to complaints about Ukraine-related spending by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who will take over as speaker of the House in January. “There are a lot of things that Ukraine wants that we didn’t do.”

This kind of conversation disappoints Kasparov. He praises Biden’s support for Ukraine’s efforts, which are constantly being complemented by European allies, but he can’t imagine its scope diminishing. “It was far less than what Ukraine needed and wanted, but more than what Putin expected.”

The war in Ukraine is closer to poker than chess, a contest of tricks and bluffs. On a chessboard, the opponent has nowhere to hide his pieces, but poker by its very nature is a game of incomplete information, of trying to guess and then being forced to make those guesses.

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Is one of Putin’s cards a nuclear strike? How long can an energy-starved Europe last until it turns brown? How long will American aid last?

Kasparov doesn’t ignore these real considerations, but he also refuses to be paralyzed by an endless variety of geopolitical speculation. For him, the war preserves the clarity of the unsophisticated morality. “I believe that Ukraine can and will win,” he said. “I think it is inevitable. It’s about costs. And every day of delay in giving Ukraine what it needs to win increases that cost.”

Vladimir Putin is sitting at a large table with many phones and a flat screen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday during a video meeting at the residence of Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP)

This fact is completely unpalatable to Kasparov, that Ukraine should plead for peace, not because the war is going badly for Kyiv, but because it is expensive for Washington, London and Berlin.

That was the widely understood subtext of the Oct. 24 letter sent to Biden by top officials, urging him to “pursue every diplomatic avenue” while pointing out that the war would cause “inflation and high oil prices for Americans in The last few months.” An outcry ensued, and the letter was recalled a day later, but not without the Russians noticing America’s growing reluctance to finance the Ukrainian resistance.

Kasparov considers this kind of conversation extremely dangerous. He thinks about conflict in the world of chess, where there is only black and white, defeat or victory. Either the West will defeat Putin, or Putin will defeat the West. “If we capitulate today in light of Putin’s nuclear blackmail, who’s to say he won’t use the exact same blackmail five years from now, six years from now?” Kasparov is surprised, his tone and expression, which show this, are not far from idle thoughts.

“And who’s to say,” he continues, “that other dictators around the world aren’t going to look at this and say, ‘Oh, look at that. Is the West ready to surrender to nuclear blackmail? Why don’t we do the same?” And for countries that do not have nuclear weapons today? Why shouldn’t they have nuclear weapons if nuclear weapons are effective and help them get what they want?’

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A rocket of smoke and flames moments after take off near a green building and towers in a clearing of trees against a cloudy sky.

In a photo released on October 26, a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile was tested as part of Russia’s nuclear drills in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia. (Press service of the Russian Ministry of Defense via AP)

This dark scenario is likely to play out in Taiwan, with a bold Xi Jinping eager to fully and finally assert China’s control over the island.

Kasparov was especially excited – and, characteristically, angry Elon Musk’s “Peace Plan”. which actually gives a large area of ​​Ukraine to Russia. Kremlin propagandists immediately embraced the idea, pointing to condemnations from the American political and media establishment as evidence that Musk (who did not respond to a Yahoo News request for comment via Twitter) had violated the truth of the ban and consent.

Kasparov says about Musk: “He buys Russian advertising spots.” “It’s very, very damaging.”

Kasparov left Russia in 2013, disgusted by the increasing repression of the Putin regime. In 2015, he published “Winter is Coming,” an urgent warning to Western politicians about Putin, whom he called “clearly the most dangerous threat facing the world today.”

Never particularly shy or reserved, Kasparov accuses President Barack Obama of trying to “restore relations” with Putin shortly after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin’s first attack on a sovereign nation since the fall of the Soviet Union. Obama then warned that if Russia crosses a “red line” in Syria and uses chemical weapons to protect the Bashar al-Assad regime, “there will be huge consequences.”

Putin and Obama shake hands moments before they shake hands in front of the Russian and American flags.

Putin and President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting during the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2012. (Caroline Custer/AP)

Then Russia used chemical weapons. “And Obama blinked,” Kasparov lamented, accusing the president of “weakness.” But it’s unclear what Obama, already presiding over two costly conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, could do to stop Putin short of military intervention, which would likely be unpopular with the American public. A representative of the former president did not respond to a request for comment.

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Kasparov says that no development has emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine like the chaotic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. “I don’t want to take it back. It was a crowd,” he told Yahoo News. “And it was a disaster. And it definitely boosted Putin’s confidence.”

Today, the 59-year-old resident of New York, who has retired from professional chess, but still leads a MasterClass at the Renewal Democracy Initiative, a non-profit organization that closely coordinates aid efforts with non-profit organizations working in Ukraine. coordinates. , who is the executive director of RDI Uriel Epstein says that supplies and funds should reach the needy people in the right places instead of being wasted or lost.

Epstein, the son of Soviet immigrants who settled in New Jersey, told Yahoo News, “It’s our responsibility to give them something not just to survive, not just enough to survive, but enough to win the war. ” He also described efforts in what has become known as the “information space” that the Kremlin has tried to fill with its propaganda.

A black-and-white image of Garry Kasparov appears in a dark sweater with his left hand slightly raised.

Kasparov in MasterClass. (PR Newswire via AP)

RDI is working with retired US General Ben Hodges to produce short, travelogue videos that explain the war situation in digestible terms. It also solicited and published essays by dissidents from around the world in partnership with CNN, as part of the Voice of Liberty series. Contributors have included Egyptian-American dissident Mohammad Solton and Iranian journalist Masih Alinejod, who was recently targeted in an assassination attempt in New York.

“They have the confidence to break through our partisan shields,” says Epstein, “to remind us that America is a force for good and it can remain a force for good.”

That argument has been challenged by Putin’s scathing criticisms of what he has described as the West, whose colonialism he says is linked to a progressive anti-Christian agenda. As the war worsened for Russia, these anti-Western revelations became more and more intense.

“Putin’s Russia is in deep decline,” says Kasparov. “I don’t believe Russia will finish this war until next spring.” Ukraine’s recent military developments, including the recent liberation of Kherson, give hope for Ukraine’s eventual victory on the battlefield.

Here, Epstein intercedes: “It depends on us,” he says.


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