Kasparov: Putin still waging ‘war against the Free World,’ after ‘pyrhhic victory’ with Trump’s election

Special to WorldTribune.com

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

In 2013, former world chess champion and Russian opposition political activist Garry Kasparov emigrated from Russia to the United States. Since then, he has continued to be a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has consistently warned the West that Putinism presents a global danger.

His 2015 book was titled Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin And The Enemies Of The Free World Must Be Stopped.

Garry Kasparov. / Mikhail Sokolov

Kasparov spoke recently with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mikhail Sokolov about the West’s relations with Russia since the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

RFE/RL: There is so much going on in the world these days that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps, with Russia?

Garry Kasparov: I think that these days it doesn’t make sense to speak separately about Russia, about the United States, about Ukraine, or about Europe. Everything is interconnected.

This is particularly true when you take into account Putin’s strategy — if you can use that word to describe his survival tactics in a rapidly changing world. Anyway, his survival strategy is completely based on an aggressive foreign policy course.

I think we can count Trump’s win among a set of Pyrrhic victories for the Putin regime.

So events inside Russia, without doubt, are very tightly connected with what is happening in the rest of the world, especially since Putin is actively trying to influence those processes.

For example, it is pretty clear that all the elections that are happening in Western countries have in one way or another ended up in the orbit of Putin’s interests. We can say with confidence that in several cases his influence has had a serious effect and has even influenced the results of elections.

But in recent weeks, it has also become clear that Western democracies have understood that such actions present a serious threat to the functioning of democratic institutions in the free world. Putin has begun to encounter organized resistance and failure for the first time.

RFE/RL: Would you say the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election and all that has happened since represents a win for Putin? Or will the new U.S. leadership decide that Putinism presents a danger to the world?

Kasparov: I think we can count Trump’s win among a set of Pyrrhic victories for the Putin regime. It seems clear that Trump’s victory was in many regards the result of active operations by the Russian secret services, hacking operations, which in the final days of the race between Trump and [former U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton influenced a significant quantity of American voters, who, in the end, tilted toward the Republicans because they were pushed away from Clinton.

Their choice was not ideological but, it seems to me, was a matter of taste formed under the influence of information attacks and information dumps that were rather successfully stage-managed by those who controlled the Russian hacking attacks.

It seems to me that the Trump effect has played a decisive role in stopping the onslaught of rightist populism in Europe.

I say it was a Pyrrhic victory because the result has been that Putin and Putin’s Russia have, for the first time that I can recall, become factors within American domestic politics, which is quite unusual.

But now Putin has become a domestic political problem for the United States. News programs and talk shows are dominated by the contacts between Trump and his surrogates with Russia, including with the Russian spy agencies.

People are trying to figure out how reliable are reports that Trump has been financed since 2008-09 by Russian oligarchs. Donald Trump Jr. has said that [Russian financing] was crucial to saving the Trump empire during the [global financial] crisis.

There are also various stories — so far, unconfirmed — about Trump’s visit to Moscow, and so on. This has all become a key part of American political life now. And for Putin, this is a big problem. He now finds himself in the crosshairs.

Moreover, it seems to me that the Trump effect has played a decisive role in stopping the onslaught of rightist populism in Europe. For the first time in several years, those forces — who were expected to win soundly in the Netherlands — were nonetheless rather seriously defeated.

And, of course, they were defeated in France. I think that this was a particularly painful loss for Putin, and I think it is a result of the Trump effect. European voters, seeing what is going on in the United States and watching Trump, decided it would be better not to conduct such experiments themselves.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) is welcomed by newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles in late May.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) is welcomed by newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles in late May.

This is a new situation for Putin. His hopes of changing the course of Europe through influencing election processes have, apparently, been dashed.

Now we are facing elections in Germany. According to the latest regional elections and opinion polls, [Chancellor] Angela Merkel is gaining strength, and the hopes of the red-green coalition headed by the Social Democrats, which are still under the influence of [former Chancellor and Putin friend Gerhard] Schroeder, are fading with each day.

This means that Europe will be pretty united on the issue of maintaining sanctions [against Russia], and there shouldn’t be any sharp policy changes.

RFE/RL: Have there been any lessons for Russia in the experience of Trump as president so far?

Kasparov: We have seen over the past few months that U.S. democracy is capable of withstanding even Trump’s escapades. For example, his attempt to curb immigration through an executive order fell apart in the courts. Four times, as a matter of fact.

Most likely, the matter will end up in the Supreme Court. But it seems, judging from the mood in the United States, that Trump’s expectation that he could just issue an order and bring about restrictions on immigration by citizens of certain Muslim countries is entirely unfounded.

I think that this is an important lesson for the citizens of nondemocratic countries — in this case, for Russia.

We have seen how effectively the Russian secret services are using social networks to advance their own agenda.

The myth of Putinist propaganda is based on the idea that democracy is a form of government that simply provides camouflage for the real interests of those who have power. That, in fact, it is a fiction. But now it turns out that the concept of separation of powers is real and this idea really works.

We have seen how four times in a row the American president has been the loser. And if you look at it from the Russian perspective, he even lost at the level of regional courts. And these weren’t even judges in New York or Illinois or California. We are talking about judges in Washington state and Hawaii.

What I mean is that this instance shows that the American president is limited in his capabilities. And I think this is also true in foreign policy, although there the president has much more leeway. But no matter how much Trump wants to lift the sanctions against Putin…

RFE/RL: Let’s switch gears now and speak about Ukraine. Kyiv has come under a lot of criticism in the West recently for blocking Russian social-media sites and access to some Russian media. What is your opinion of this?

Kasparov: I think that any action that the Ukrainian authorities take to maintain their sovereignty and repel Russian aggression — in this case, information aggression — is a step in the right direction.

Moreover, I really hope that these same actions will be taken by European countries and that they will shut down the avenues of information warfare that are actively being used by the Russian secret services in order to stir up tensions in countries with Russian minorities.

I think that the European Union should stop with the crocodile tears about limitations on rights and freedoms in Ukraine and think about how Ukraine’s experience can be used effectively.

I repeat: This is information aggression and part of Putin’s plan to destabilize the situation both in Ukraine and in Europe itself. There is a war going on. It is an undeclared war, a hybrid war, but that doesn’t change the basic fact. There is a war going on.

RFE/RL: A war by whom against whom?

Kasparov: A war by Putin against the free world. For Putin, this war is a means of holding on to his own power. All arguments along the lines that the defending countries are restricting rights and freedoms do not hold water because, in a war situation, it is necessary to take extraordinary measure to preserve sovereignty.

There is a lot at stake. We have seen how effectively the Russian secret services are using social networks to advance their own agenda, for the creation of an atmosphere of mistrust and even hatred.

In my opinion, the Ukrainian experience is a harbinger. They are on the front line. I think that Europe, sooner or later, will begin to move in the same direction.

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