• Moderator
    Ms. Dana Weiss
    Journalist and Presenter
  • Panelist
    Mr. Garry Kasparov
    chess grandmaster and democracy activist in Russia

Chess In The Name Of Democracy

Many consider Garry Kasparov as the world’s foremost famous chess player. At the age of 22, he became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion. He held the title for a record twenty years before retiring from the game in 2005 to become a pro-democracy activist in Russia.

One of Israel’s most respected journalists, Dana Weiss, sat down with Kasparov for the closing panel of the Conference. She began by asking the grandmaster about his decision to leave chess and become a full-time democracy advocate. Kasparov noted that he had been active to a certain degree while still playing as world champion. “The game wasn’t just about winning or losing. I wanted to make a contribution to the game.”

But the rules that govern Russian politics, Kasparov added,are dramatically different than both the rules of chess and the rubrics of politics in the West. “In Putin’s Russia, we’re not looking to win elections; we’re looking to have elections.” As for comparisons between chess and Russian politics, he said, “The fundamental difference between the two is that in chess you have fixed groups and unpredictable results, and in Russian politics it’s exactly the opposite.”

Kasparov noted that his advantage in the political sphere comes from his ability to see the big picture. In today’s interconnected world, he remarked,decisions made by Western leaders have global ramifications which they might not always foresee.

When Weiss turned the conversation toward the Russian leader,Kasparov explained: “Putin’s ultimate goal is to stay in power for the rest of his life as a dictator and he’s not hiding it anymore.  To stay in power, he needs cash to buy the empathy of the Russian people. The cash comes from oil and gas. He needs high oil prices.” This dependence, Kasparov said, explains Putin’s support for Syria and Iran.

It also explains the new sources of Russian power. Russia might not have the military might it once had, but according to Kasparov, “Instead of using tanks he (Putin) knows how to use banks. Putin controls more money than any other person in history by far.” Over a trillion dollars, by Kasparov’s calculations, are in Putin’s control”.

That said, Kasparov expressed optimism that Putin’s days in power are numbered. “Russia is like a volcano and you can see the bubbles rising. Even reading the press, you can sense a great deal of paranoia.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened soon and Putin didn’t survive until the end of his official term in 2018.”

Until then, Kasparov said, it is not in Israel’s interest to befriend the Russian leader. After all, Putin’s proxies, such as Syria, Iran and Hezbollah remain Israel’s biggest threats, he added, and we need to play a long-term strategic game.

Kasparov concluded with harsh words for leaders of the West, and for U.S. President Obama in particular, for their naïve faith that Iran will give up its nuclear program. “To get American attention you need to start a nuclear program, kill your people with chemical weapons and support terrorism. Only then will America negotiate with you.”