The Tsar’s Opponent: Garry Kasparov Takes Aim At The Power Of Vladim

by David Remnick

The New Yorker
Letter From Moscow; Pg. 65 Vol. 83 No. 29
October 1, 2007

On a recent summer evening, the greatest player in the history of
chess, Garry Kasparov, wrapped up an exhausting series of meetings
devoted to the defeat of the Kremlin regime. After days of debate,
a motley pride of unlikely revolutionaries-bearded politicos,
earnest academics, and multigrained environmentalists-collected their
cigarettes and left Kasparov’s apartment, divided and worn out.

Little had been accomplished. Crumpled drafts of fevered proclamations
lay scattered on the kitchen table. Puffy-eyed and unsmiling, Kasparov
grunted a curt farewell to his comrades and went off to make yet
another urgent telephone call.

Kasparov is forty-four. He was the world chess champion for fifteen
years. Until his retirement, two years ago, his dominance was
unprecedented. Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer-none came close.

Chess has outsized meaning in Russia, and Kasparov at home was a
cross between the greatest of athletes and a revered intellectual;
with his status came celebrity, foreign investment accounts, summers
on the Adriatic, an apartment along the Hudson River, friendships
among Western politicians and businessmen, and the attentions of
beautiful women. Now he has volunteered for grim and, very likely,
futile duty. As the most conspicuous leader of Drugaya Rossiya
(the Other Russia), an umbrella group of liberals, neo-Bolsheviks,
and just about anyone else wishing to speak ill of Vladimir Putin,
he is in nominal charge of opposition politics in a country that,
in actuality, has no real politics except for that which takes place
in the narrow and inscrutable space between the ears of its President.

Kasparov’s mother, Klara, shares his apartment and his travails. "It
is like we are soldiers together in the ditches," she once said.

"Even when we are at a great distance, Garry and I can feel each
other’s mood." Like her son, Klara Kasparova is impossibly energetic,
deeply intelligent, and a touch melodramatic. It had been a tedious
few days of marathon jawing and internal spats. The Other Russia was
scheduled to hold its annual conference the next morning at a Holiday
Inn in central Moscow, but some of its leading figures had decided
to boycott over the question of whether to unify immediately behind
a single Presidential candidate for the March, 2008, election.

"All day and night, people running here and there, meeting, talking,
drinking tea," Klara Kasparova said, with a long sigh. Her dyed-red
hair was askew, her face slack. "This apartment has been like
Smolny." A romantic analogy: the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, in
St. Petersburg, had been the Bolshevik headquarters during the October
Revolution. Lenin barely left the building in those manic weeks, and,
when he did, he sometimes disguised himself in surgical bandages.

Kasparov’s redoubt in the Arbat neighborhood of Moscow is not nearly
as elegant as Smolny, but the address is one of Soviet-era privilege
and among the most expensive areas on the real-estate market.

Government officials and members of the cultural elite were awarded
apartments there. Kasparov was never obedient or politically reliable
like his great rival Anatoly Karpov, but he didn’t lack for comforts.

His kitchen has a flat-screen television, an Italian espresso machine,
and other swish appliances that would surely have brightened Lenin’s
late nights at Smolny.

Kasparov pocketed his phone and slumped into a chair at the kitchen
table. He is handsome and athletic, but thicker than he once was,
and his hair, black and curly when he won the world championship, is
now graying and cropped close to his skull. Though the meetings had
ended with a split, which Russia’s small opposition can ill afford,
Kasparov seemed to thrive on the claustrophobic intensity of kitchen
politics. "The intellectual brainstorming always takes place here,"
he said. "We did it like this when I was playing chess and when I was
beginning in politics, in the nineties. The kitchen tradition is part
of our culture."

Klara asked a maid to make coffee. The espresso came bolshoi
trippio-enormous mugs of steaming caffeine. It became easier to see how
Kasparov was able to work heroic hours and then, well after midnight,
settle down at his computer to play "blitz"-five-minute-long games
of chess. He plays anonymously, but the cognoscenti know his style of
attack. They still feel his presence. Sinatra cannot sing anonymously.

Kasparov explained why Mikhail Kasyanov, who had served for four
years as Prime Minister under Putin and was now angling to run as
the opposition’s Presidential candidate, would skip the Other Russia
conference. Kasparov, unlike Kasyanov, believes that the opposition
can challenge the Kremlin only after it grows, from the bottom up;
his argument, which prevailed, was that the Other Russia had to hold
extensive Presidential primaries in the Russian provinces, with
numerous debates and public meetings, before choosing its nominee
in October. "What’s the point otherwise?" Kasparov said. "The only
chance to capture people’s attention and get the crowds to come,
to get engaged, is by demonstrating that we act democratically."

Although Kasparov’s popularity ratings are higher than Kasyanov’s,
they are both marginal in the Land of Putin. Even if Kasparov decides
to run (and he probably will), the government would not likely register
his candidacy, and, even if it did, he could not win. The point is to
create an alternative, not to be deluded into thinking there is an
open election that can be won. Besides, Kasparov is half Armenian,
half Jewish-not exactly an ideal ethnic mix for a politician in a
country with deep currents of anti-Caucasian and anti-Semitic feeling.

The details of Kasparov’s dispute with Kasyanov were, ultimately,
of small moment. For all practical purposes, Putin will select
his successor, much as his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, designated
him-unless he forgoes his promise to stand down and changes the
constitution to allow a third term. Although a great many Russians
would not object if he were to declare himself, Mobutu style, President
for Life, it seems increasingly unlikely that he will stay.

In recent years, Putin has insured that nearly all power in Russia
is Presidential. The legislature, the State Duma, is only marginally
more independent than the Supreme Soviet was under Leonid Brezhnev.

The governors of Russia’s more than eighty regions are no longer
elected, as they were under Yeltsin; since a Presidential decree in
2004, they have all been appointed by the Kremlin. Putin even appoints
the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The federal television
networks, by far the main instrument of news and information in Russia,
are neo-Soviet in their absolute obeisance to Kremlin power. "Putin is
no enemy of free speech," Ksenia Ponomareva, who worked on his first
Presidential campaign, told the St. Petersburg Times. "He simply
finds absurd the idea that somebody has the right to criticize him
publicly." The business community must also obey the commands and
signals of Putin’s circle. There are now nearly as many billionaires
in Moscow as in New York City, but the arrest for fraud, in 2003,
of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil magnate who had been the country’s
richest man, was a clear, ominous signal that wealth is dependent on
Kremlin approval. Khodorkovsky, who dared to fund opposition parties,
pronounce his own political ideas, and attempt to cut pipeline deals
with China without Kremlin permission, is now serving an eight-year
term in Penal Colony No. 10, in eastern Siberia.

Kasparov is well aware of the perils of brazen independence. Since
Putin took office, in 2000, more than a dozen Russian journalists
have been murdered, as have several opposition politicians. The cases
remain "unresolved." When Kasparov is in Russia, he retains a security
contingent that costs him tens of thousands of dollars a month. His
wife, Daria Tarasova, and their baby often stay in an apartment in New
Jersey. Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general who was Putin’s superior
in St. Petersburg twenty years ago and now lives in Maryland, told
me, "You can expect anything with this regime, and Kasparov has been
very vocal and very personal in his criticism of Putin. I wouldn’t be
surprised to hear about something terrible happening to him. And where
will the evidence be? Remember that Trotsky’s assassin, Señor Ramon
Mercader, was sent to get him in Mexico by the K.G.B. and was secretly
made a Hero of the Soviet Union. No one knew the truth for decades."

When I asked Kasparov if he feared for his life, he nodded gravely
and said, "I do. The only thing I can try to do is reduce my risk. I
can’t avoid the risk altogether. They watch everything I do in Moscow,
or when I travel to places like Murmansk or Voronezh or Vladimir. I
don’t eat or drink at places I’m not familiar with. I avoid flying
with Aeroflot"-the Russian national airline. "It doesn’t help in the
end if they really decide to go after you. But, if they did, it would
be really messy. And not just because of the bodyguards. There would
be a huge risk for the Kremlin if anything happens to me, God forbid,
because the blood would be on Putin’s hands. It’s not that they have
an allergy to blood, but it creates a bad image, or makes it worse
than it already is."

While the Russian opposition squabbles in various corners and kitchens
of downtown Moscow, Vladimir Putin glides serenely, from victory to
victory, along a petrodollar slick. His popularity rating is pegged
at around eighty per cent, and the image of Russia abroad and at home
is no longer one of imperial dissolution.

Certainly, Putin has been lucky. Russia is second only to Saudi
Arabia in petroleum production and leads the world in the production
of natural gas. Without Russian gas, much of Europe freezes in its
bed. Oil prices have nearly tripled since 2000. Real incomes and
G.D.P. continue to grow. Unlike during the Yeltsin years, pensions
and state salaries have, in general, been paid and have increased. A
crushing multibillion-dollar foreign debt has been paid off. As
recently as five years ago, knowing analysts would dismiss the
shimmering signs of wealth in Moscow-the wildfire construction
projects; the new hotels, luxury stores, and restaurants; the
streets clogged with Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys-and describe
them as phenomena limited solely to a tiny, criminalized upper
crust. Now nearly every big urban center, from Kaliningrad, in the
west, to Vladivostok, in the far east, has seen considerable growth
and the first signs of a middle class. Kasparov, though, points to
the widening gap between rich and poor, persistent poverty in the
provinces, and the absence of human rights as "the key reasons this
regime will inevitably collapse."

No less important than reversing the direction of the economy is
that Putin has emboldened the national psychology. In the early
years of the Yeltsin era, Russians devoured American pop culture,
and the political class was eager to accept the counsel of the White
House and Western economic advisers. In time, many Russians felt
that Yeltsin was following America’s lead in everything from arms
control to monetary policy. Now that the U.S. has foundered on so many
fronts-in Iraq, on questions of torture and domestic surveillance-the
Kremlin reacts severely to what it perceives as American lectures on
democracy. A judo expert, Putin is often able to exploit the moral
and executive disasters of the Bush Administration and flip America
over his hip. Last February, at a Munich security conference, Putin
criticized the United States for trying to establish a "unipolar"
world. Putin has adopted a haughty, derisive tone toward the West.

"Of course, I am an absolutely true democrat," he remarked recently.

"The tragedy is that I am alone. There are no such other democrats
in the world. The Americans torture at Guantanamo, and in Europe the
police use gas against protesters. Sometimes protesters are killed
in the streets. We have, incidentally, a moratorium on the death
penalty, which is often enforced in other G-8 countries. Let us not
be hypocrites as far as democratic freedoms and human rights."

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told me that the West "wants Russia
to somehow return to the nineties, when Russia was weak and could not
resist. It is always comfortable to have a weak Russia next to wealthy
Europe. But Russia is no longer on the brink of disintegration."

Putin sees himself as the new tsar, who, after suffering the
humiliation of a lost empire, has restored strength and confidence to
Russia. With the price of oil at eighty-two dollars a barrel, there
is a sense of global reordering. "People feel that Putin can speak
up to the United States," Tanya Lokshina, a human-rights expert, said.

"He can give us an independent politics and we can even blackmail a
lot of countries with our oil and gas."

Early this summer, Putin went to Guatemala City, where he delivered a
speech in English-a language he’d never spoken in public-as part of
Russia’s campaign to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russia won the
Games, and now the state will invest twelve billion dollars in a new
Olympic Village, in the southern city of Sochi. The spoils, Putin’s
critics assume, will go to the Kremlin’s favored contractors. Alfa
Bank, one of the biggest financial institutions in Russia, sent a
chipper memorandum to its investors, titled "Let the Gains Begin."

Kasparov and many other figures in the opposition believe that Putin
might become the head of the International Olympic Committee-and
thus occupy himself for four years before regaining the Presidency
in 2012. "The I.O.C. is not the most transparent organization in
the world," he said. "He can definitely buy his way on." Kasparov,
like many others in the opposition, is convinced that Putin became a
billionaire in office, perhaps the richest man in the country, and
has entrusted Russian confederates to shelter his money in foreign
banks. There is no proof of Putin’s staggering wealth, but, in
Kasparov’s eyes, to question the proposition is to be hopelessly naïve.

Putin’s popularity as an avatar of Russian tradition and state power
is partly a result of the dim view that most people now take of the
Yeltsin era. Not long ago, I saw Aleksei Balabanov’s "Zhmurki," or
"Dead Man’s Bluff," a gangster film that seemed to encapsulate in
bloody caricature the general view of Russia in the nineteen-nineties
as chaotic, corrupt, and violent. The film opens with a professor
teaching an economics class in 2005 and explaining how, after the
collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union, in 1991, there was a
"redivision of property"-the biggest in the history of humanity. This
was a period in which the "so-called oligarchs" acquired their oil
fields, gold mines, and banks.

"Does anyone know how?" she asks.

"Back then," an eager student says, "you could make heaps of money
from nothing."

"And there were also criminal groups," the professor adds, "which
merged with the authorities and, in doing so, acquired their start-up

Then comes a title card ("The Mid-1990’s") and a grisly scene in which
a killer named the Professional is torturing a rival gangster in a
morgue. (The film contains more torture than the collected works
of Quentin Tarantino.) In the final sequence, a pair of sadistic
hit men steal five kilos of heroin from their boss-their "start-up
capital"-and run off to Moscow, where they exchange their leather
jackets and pistols for dark suits and jobs in the Kremlin bureaucracy.

In today’s Russia, demokratia as it emerged in the nineties has been
derisively called dermokratia: "shit-ocracy." The notion of liberalism,
too-a belief in the necessity of civil society, civil liberties, an
open economy-has been degraded. Of all the pro-democracy activists
and politicians of the late eighties and the nineties, the only one
remembered fondly-if not very often-is the physicist and human-rights
activist Andrei Sakharov. And that may be because he died in December,
1989, two years before the fall of the Soviet empire. The liberal
parties that began in the nineties, such as Yabloko (Apple) and the
Union of Right Forces, remain tainted by their connections to the
Yeltsin era and no longer have seats in the Duma. "The state lets the
opposition exist so long as there is no coalition," Mikhail Kasyanov,
the former Prime Minister, told me.

"You can scarcely find anyone in opposition, except for the Communists,
just like in Yeltsin’s times," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recently told
Der Spiegel. "If you take an unbiased look at the situation, there
was a rapid decline of living standards in the nineteen-nineties,
which affected three-quarters of Russian families, and all under the
‘democratic banner.’ Small wonder, then, that the population does not
rally to this banner anymore." Solzhenitsyn, who lives just outside
Moscow, is eighty-eight, and in failing health.

Although much of his work as a novelist and historian comprises a
prolonged critique of Soviet power and the secret police, he speaks
approvingly of Putin, who was a lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B.

"Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor
and demoralized people," he said. "And he started to do what was
possible-a slow and gradual restoration."

Kasparov argues that Putin’s popularity is the phony popularity of
dictators. "The support for Putin is a kind of passive resistance
to change," he said. "You cannot talk about polls and popularity
when all of the media are under state control. I don’t want to give
anyone any bad ideas, but with such a propaganda apparatus, backed up
by an all-powerful security force, seventy-per-cent approval should
be a minimum!"

Two great traditions have survived in Russia: the power of the secret
police and the use of allegory as a means of truthtelling. In Putin’s
Russia, the latter is one of the few effective means of describing
the former.

Recently, Vladimir Sorokin, a writer in his fifties with a flair for
surreal brutality, published a dystopian novel called "Day of the
Oprichnik." The oprichniki were the secret police of the sixteenth
century, Ivan the Terrible’s K.G.B. In Sorokin’s depiction of an
authoritarian Russia set in the year 2028, the ruler controls all
destinies and information. The state’s well-being depends on oil
and gas and the individual’s survival on unquestioning fealty to a
bloody-minded despot and his circle of oprichniki. The state itself
is profoundly conservative, traditional.

The allegory is easy to follow. Putin and many of his top officials
in the Kremlin, ministers and advisers, come from the ranks of the
K.G.B., many from his home city of St. Petersburg. Yeltsin made
tentative attempts to reform the security services, but they failed.

"The system of political police has been preserved," Yeltsin admitted,
"and it could be resurrected." During the nineties, the oligarchs
staffed their organizations with well-trained, well-informed
ex-K.G.B. advisers, but Putin has reversed the hierarchy. The
siloviki-the security men-are now more prevalent in the Kremlin than
Harvard men were in the Kennedy White House. Olga Kryshtanovskaya,
an expert on political elites, estimates that siloviki occupy more
than sixty per cent of "high" and "upper middle" positions in the
state. They run numerous Kremlin departments, bureaucracies, banking
operations, and state corporations.

In a book-length interview about his life, "First Person," Putin says
that when he was stationed in East Germany, in the eighties, he was
often idle as Communism itself was collapsing. He mainly drank the
local brew-"you pour the beer into the keg, you add a spigot, and
you can drink straight from the barrel"-and gained twenty-five pounds.

But, as President, he has not hesitated to show loyalty to his
erstwhile employer and enhance its power. "There is no such thing
as a former Chekist," he says, referring to the original name of the
Soviet secret police.

Under Putin’s K.G.B. old-boy network, one of his colleagues in
East Germany, Sergei Chemezov, has been installed as the head of
Rosoboronexport, a state arms corporation. The two deputy heads of
the Presidential Administration, Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov, are
ex-spies from St. Petersburg, and they have placed former colleagues
in leadership positions everywhere from the Ministry of Justice to
the largest industries. Sechin himself is the chairman of the biggest
state-operated oil company, Rosneft, and Ivanov chairs the board of
directors for Aeroflot and Almaz-Antei, a producer of air-defense

Some of the gaudiest events in recent Russian history-the murders,
the arrests of disobedient business executives, the muscling of
uncooperative foreign companies-are thought by many to be tied to
the K.G.B.’s successor agency, the F.S.B. (Federal Security Service),
although the over-all structure of the regime, its mode of corruption,
its strategic way of controlling society and the economy and dealing
with the outside world, is many times more sophisticated than the
bumbling of the late Soviet era. Putin is not a dictator-not in the
Stalinist sense. He knows that to play in the global economy he must
bring his resources to the marketplace and behave with a modicum of
decorum. When anyone gets in his way, he can employ the F.S.B., but
in a highly selective manner. In the modern world, the political use
of the tax police or a single, well-publicized incident of mysterious
brutality is far more effective than mass repression and the Gulag.

And, in the experience of Vladimir Putin, who can prove to him that
stability and prosperity demand democratic politics? Without the
trappings of democracy, China is hoping it will become the world’s
biggest economy. Oil-rich and liberty-poor Iran and Venezuela are
ascendant. And Russia itself is growing richer; with the foreign debt
gone, a multibillion-dollar stabilization fund has been established
as a hedge against lower oil prices. For the first few years of
Putin’s reign, there were several liberal advisers in his retinue,
but once oil prices began to rise, from around twenty-five dollars
a barrel to more than three times that, and analysts determined that
such prices were sustainable, a more assertively statist policy took
hold. Liberal advisers were fired or marginalized, kept on only as
decoration for Western eyes. And few complain.

"The vast majority of people enjoy the fact that for the first time
in Russian history they have lived for fifteen years now without the
constant pressure of totalitarianism in every aspect of their lives,"
Vladimir Milov, an economist who left Putin’s government in 2002,
said. "For example, you can travel abroad freely. The majority of
people can’t yet afford to do this, but the most active and educated
can, and this makes a huge difference. The authorities here let you
exist so long as you don’t call them into question. In other words,
the deal they offer is: You let us steal and we let you live."

In 1989, in the midst of the reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev,
two well-known social scientists, Andranik Migranyan and Igor Klyamkin,
published a dialogue in the weekly newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta,
in which Migranyan said, "Nowhere, not in any country of the world
was there ever a direct transition from a totalitarian regime to
democracy. There has always been a necessary provisional authoritarian
period." At the time, the liberal intellectuals of Moscow dismissed
the article as reactionary. Now the Russians seem apolitical and
willing to overlook the sins of a state run by K.G.B. instincts;
most people want nothing more than to settle into private life.

Under Yeltsin, a small group of businessmen used their connections
to the Kremlin to buy up state enterprises-oil companies, aluminum
plants, transport systems-and made their fortunes. Putin instituted
new rules: these oligarchs could keep their properties so long as
they did not create political power bases outside the Kremlin. The
Kremlin would not hesitate to nationalize the enterprise or put its
ministers on the board of directors. "Gazprom is not a company,"
Milov said. "It has a new wrapping, people in good suits and ties,
but it is a classic Soviet enterprise. All you have now is an upper
echelon that takes all the money." Putin’s former chief of staff,
Dmitri Medvedev, is, simultaneously, the first Deputy Prime Minister
of the Russian government and the chairman of the board of Gazprom.

The March Presidential elections will be notable for which corporate
groups have patrons at the top. "In the past seven years, Putin has
skillfully balanced these clans, not allowing any single one of them to
take too powerful a lead," Yuri Dzhibladze, a human-rights activist,
said. "He is the supreme arbiter. When he destroyed and split up
Yukos"-Khodorkovsky’s oil company-"he distributed it all around. He
is the check and he is the balance. When he leaves the Presidency,
the problem will be that these groups do not get along."

Putin has promised to propose one or more successors, but, rather than
make himself an instant lame duck, he has avoided direct endorsements,
using mystery as a political tool. On September 12th, Putin dissolved
the government and appointed a relatively obscure bureaucrat, Viktor
Zubkov, as Prime Minister. Zubkov promptly declared that if he
succeeded "in doing something in the post of premier" he might run
for President. Putin called Zubkov, who is sixty-six, a "brilliant
administrator and true professional" but made no endorsement.

In the meantime, every political expert in Moscow, real and
self-proclaimed, has a theory. Another strong candidate, some
speculate, is the other first Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei
Ivanov, a former defense minister. Ivanov spent two decades in the
secret services, first alongside Putin in the Leningrad K.G.B.’s
foreign-intelligence division, then in posts in Africa and Europe,
and, finally, as a general at Moscow headquarters. He speaks
English and Swedish, but he is not considered to be particularly
enamored of the West. Medvedev, the other Deputy Prime Minister,
is also a possible contender. And then comes a litany of potential
candidates, including the railway minister, Vladimir Yakunin, who
is thought to have worked for the K.G.B. when he was a diplomat at
the United Nations, and various parliamentary loyalists, ministers,
and regional governors. The essence of the election, however, is not
the individual but the means. The winner will be a man of the inner
circle-a Presidential, not a popular, choice.

"Here is how it will go: Putin will decide the successor and he will
be elected without much struggle," Vladimir Ryzhkov, a young (and
very lonely) liberal in the Duma, said. "All the opposition will be
put on as a show for stupid foreigners like you to demonstrate what
a great democracy we are. And all the resources of the media will be
employed to put on this show."

Yevgeny Gontmakher, an economist who worked as a senior adviser to the
Cabinet until 2003, told me, "Even Putin doesn’t know what he’s going
to do yet. He is just reacting to events, day by day. You might see
him make some democratic-seeming moves toward the end of the year. He
wants to legitimatize his power in the eyes of the West.

There won’t be a third term. He wants to join the club of former
Presidents: Bush, Chirac, and all the rest. At the same time, there
are a lot of problems that are coming due and there is always the
chance that the price of oil will drop. Winning the Olympics for
Sochi marked the peak of his popularity. So why hang on?"

Yet stories persist that Putin may yet do so. According to a report
in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a Kremlin working group is examining
scenarios for constitutional change to allow Putin more terms. The
pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, has well in excess of the two-thirds
majority needed to alter the law. In the end, though, Putin will almost
certainly prefer to maintain the patina of democratic procedure-"I
have no intention to reduce everything I’ve done to zero"-and preserve
a strong influence over his successor.

When he was asked earlier this month about his desire to continue in
public life, Putin, with characteristic vagueness, said, "I hope to
be fit enough and I have the desire to do so. Any future President
will have to reckon with that."

Living in Moscow in the late nineteen-eighties and the early nineties,
I spent many weekend mornings at various halls around the city-the
House of Film, the Architect’s Union, the Writer’s Union-listening
to Moscow intellectuals make speeches demanding that Gorbachev
push reforms forward, faster. Kasparov’s political education took
place at these meetings. He was at the zenith of his celebrity as
a chess champion. Within a few years of Gorbachev’s rise to power,
in March, 1985, political groups called nyeformali, or "informals,"
were created, first in Moscow and then throughout the Soviet Union. The
most important of these early groups was Moscow Tribune, a "discussion
group," dominated by former political dissidents like Andrei Sakharov,
Larisa Bogoraz, and Sergei Kovalyov and a range of shestidesyatniki,
intellectual members of the sixties generation, who came of age after
the death of Stalin. With Kasparov often sitting in the audience,
they discussed history, economics, democratization, human rights, and
ethnic problems in the Caucasus, the Baltic States, and Central Asia.

"The environment was different in 1987, 1988, 1989 than it is now,"
Kasparov said. "There was consensus in Soviet society that the game
was over. There was a demand for change. People were opposed to
the old Soviet system, from the feudal republics in Central Asia to
the Baltics, which were essentially part of Europe. The system had
outlived itself. But there was no clear plan. There was a demand.

Everyone recognized that oil prices were going down and the Soviet
system would collapse. . . . Today, the majority of people don’t
like what they feel and see, but there is a defensive layer: what
if something else is worse? They remember it could be worse like it
was when the economy collapsed in 1998, or when the Union collapsed,
in 1991."

One of the earliest ethnic conflicts under Gorbachev was the dispute
in the Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of
Nagorno-Karabakh. In those days, Kasparov split his time between
his home town, Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, and frequent trips to
Moscow and matches abroad. On January 13, 1990, he and his team of
chess trainers were at a resort north of Baku, preparing for a match.

The atmosphere throughout the region was tense. There had already
been violence against the minority populations, especially against
Armenians in the town of Sumgait. That evening in Baku, gangs stormed
through Armenian neighborhoods, beating men, women, and children.

They torched apartments and houses; there were rapes and stabbings.

Kasparov wanted to help his friends and relatives in Baku, but he was
stuck; there were rumors that the gangs were headed to the resort where
he was training and to other towns in the republic. A few days later,
he was able to go to his apartment in Baku but had time only to grab
some family pictures and childhood chess notebooks. The Azerbaijanis,
together with the K.G.B., had shut down most flights, trains, and
other transport out of Baku. Kasparov, however, was somehow able to
arrange a chartered plane from Moscow. On the seventeenth, he filled
all sixty-eight seats with other Armenians and left for the Soviet
capital. When the violence subsided, almost all of the Armenians
who still lived in Baku had fled. On January 20th, the Soviet Army,
under Gorbachev’s command, moved into Baku not to save Armenians-it
was too late for that-but to protect the leadership of the Azerbaijani
Communist Party against a growing opposition.

Kasparov, whose privilege allowed him to stay at the Regency Hotel
in New York and the St. James Club in Paris, had become a refugee. He
has never returned to Baku.

"I always believed that a city is not the stones, a city is the
people," he told the magazine New in Chess. "Baku is no longer the Baku
where I was born and where I used to live. There are some gravestones
at the cemetery. My father, my two grandfathers, and one grandmother
were buried there. But it is just a matter of stones."

The Moscow intelligentsia was ambivalent about Gorbachev. He had freed
Sakharov from his forced exile in Gorky and gradually unfettered the
press, the publishing houses, and the universities.

But by 1989 many had grown impatient with his need to maneuver between
the demands of the old elites of the Communist Party and the K.G.B. and
the demands of the urban intellectuals who wanted him to abandon the
entire Soviet system. Few were more unforgiving of Gorbachev than
Kasparov. After the pogroms in Baku, he had met with Gorbachev and
found him unmoved and "unimpressed" by his accounts of the bloodshed
there. "All he could talk about was some new chief of the Azerbaijani
Communist Party," Kasparov said. "For him, it was all big picture. To
sacrifice a single life did not seem to greatly matter." When Kasparov
travelled abroad, and when he wrote for Western newspapers like
the Wall Street Journal, he denounced Gorbachev as a liar, a clever
and desperate apparatchik, "the last leader of the communist state,
trying to save everything he can."

Before the first Gulf War, Kasparov told anyone who would listen that
the United States should drop an atomic bomb on Saddam Hussein.

During the resistance in Moscow to the 1991 coup attempt, Kasparov
took the conspiratorial position that Gorbachev had been behind the
plot-that, in an effort to establish a national state of emergency
and yet "keep his hands clean," he had pretended to be under house
arrest at his dacha in the town of Foros, in Ukraine.

"I guess I am fifteen years older now, more experienced," Kasparov
told me. "I was young and my political education was Soviet. I saw
things in black-and-white, Communist and anti-Communist. Now in the
Other Russia I find myself having to compromise with people who were my
sworn enemies." His newfound diplomacy, however, does not prevent him
from comparing Putin’s Kremlin to "the Mafia" and "the Stalin regime."

Kasparov says that he was "dead wrong" to support Yeltsin for
reëlection to the Russian Presidency in 1996, even though it was a
fairly open secret that Yeltsin, who had started a cruel and senseless
war in Chechnya, was too addled to rule effectively. Rather than
risk allowing Yeltsin’s opponent, the Communist Gennady Zyuganov,
to come to power, Kasparov was one of those who chose to ignore the
fact that Yeltsin, supported by oligarchs hoping to maintain their
status, returned to power in a crooked ballot.

"We knew it was neither a fair nor a free election," Kasparov said.

"But we so feared a Communist resurrection that I personally went to
Communist strongholds-Ulyanovsk, Kursk, Kaluga-and campaigned. Then
Yeltsin was elected and the country was looted by these men who put
him forward."

Kasparov is hardly a conventional politician. His appeal is the
stubborn purity, almost naïvete, of his politics, the prestige of
his former position as chess champion, and the public sense that he
is an idealist. Even the leaders of the anti-Putin intelligentsia
who argue with Kasparov recognize that he could easily have lived
a comfortable life in Moscow or joined the flow of rich migrants to
South Kensington, the Seventh Arrondissement, or the Upper East Side.

"The understanding of what an opposition is has been compromised in
recent years-it’s a term used ironically or skeptically or dismissed
entirely," said Arseny Roginsky, the chairman of Memorial, a group
devoted to human rights and historical memory. "This is the era of
exposes and scandals, and everyone is seen to be crawling back to
the Kremlin, for funding or whatever. This is the era of complete
distrust. And so everyone’s opposition credentials are disdained or
dismissed. Except for Garry. He is unique, really. No one doubts that
he is in opposition to the Kremlin. He might be a good politician
or a bad politician, but no one doubts his sincerity. In Russia
today, you need to believe that an opposition exists-the image of an
opposition, even. Kasparov is honest. As a little boy, part Jewish,
part Caucasian, he had huge responsibilities. Now he plays a different
game. And this earns him respect. It’s also important that he is so
famous. He belongs to the world."

"I don’t completely understand Garry, but he has huge reserves of
energy and talent," Ludmila Alexeeva, a sixties-era dissident and
a leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a predominant human-rights
organization, said. "Russia, historically, has had its share of
idealists. And I would say that Garry is in that tradition."

Kasparov’s demeanor hardly resembles Sakharov’s saintly carriage.

After losing a match, he could be dismissive of autograph-seekers,
rude to waiters, self-centered in the extreme; sometimes he would
humiliate the grand masters who helped to train him, pouncing on a
piece of dubious advice and showing them, move by move, just how
feebleminded their suggestion was. Like anyone who has been the
focus of admiration since kindergarten, Kasparov is ego-driven;
people wait on him; friends, family, and wives (there have been
three) know that his needs come first. And yet, for the most part,
he is as generous as he is intelligent. Despite the single-minded
attention he has given to an abstruse game of sixty-four squares,
he is interested in everything from sports (soccer, especially)
to literature (his favorite novel is Bulgakov’s "The Master and
Margarita," a celebrated example of allegory in the Soviet era).

Kasparov was born in 1963 in Baku. His father, Kim Weinstein,
was Jewish, and his mother, Klara Kasparova, Armenian. When Garry
was around six, he picked up an endgame puzzle in the newspaper and
solved it, even though he didn’t yet know the rules of chess. "Since
Garry knows how the game ends," his father said, "we ought to teach
him how it begins."

The next year, Kim Weinstein died, of cancer. Garry started to play
chess obsessively. In those days, chess was a Soviet obsession and the
regime sponsored an elaborate network of chess academies; Garry started
to train at one run by the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. At
the age of twelve, Garry was attracting national attention in chess,
and he took his mother’s family name. "When I began to have public
success at chess, it seemed natural," he said.

"My teacher, Botvinnik, himself of Jewish ancestry, added that it
wouldn’t hurt my chances of success in the U.S.S.R. not to be named
Weinstein." The next year, he played his first tournament abroad,
and by eighteen he was the Soviet champion, surrounded by admirers
and under endless pressure to perform.

"The loss of my childhood was the price for becoming the youngest
world champion in history," Kasparov once said. "When you have to
fight every day from a young age, your soul can be contaminated. I
lost my childhood. I never really had it. Today I have to be careful
not to become cruel, because I became a soldier too early."

>From the start, Kasparov’s sights were set on a single enemy.