As Russian President Vladimir Putin spent his first full day here on Thursday, legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov had a message for Israel: Don't trust him!
In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Russia, Kasparov, who has retired from chess and is now a political rival of the president's, complained that Putin's regime is trampling on democratic principles and poses a serious threat to the rest of the world. He also said that Putin's reliance on support from ultranationalist forces could spell trouble for Russia's Jews, and he skewered Putin for strategic shortcomings that, he said, could imperil Israel.
The Russian president had undermined democratic reforms installed by his predecessors, Kasparov added, citing strict controls on independent media and suggestions that Putin might force an alteration to the constitution that would allow him to remain in office for a third term.
Kasparov also claimed that Putin was not only doing too little to combat the rising ant-Semitism in Russia, but charged that the former KGB officer's government even encouraged and instigated ultranationalist sentiment, with the security apparatus propping up far-right groups.
"The only way to win support from the West is to make sure that everyone is scared of the threat of ultranationalist forces... so Putin presents himself as the only one who can stop them,"
Kasparov said. Parties such as Nashi, a pro-Putin "version of the brown-shirts," he said, create provocations that give the Russian president "a legal chance to use military forces in Russian streets."
Kasparov told The Post he believed that Israel's Russian immigrant population should speak out to draw the West's attention to the dangers that Putin's regime poses.
"Western leaders don't care at all about Putin and [his record on] democracy as long as he can provide them with some sort of stability in Russia," he said, "but Putin is not providing stability at all. The Chechen war is spreading, with Islamists joining what was once a nationalist separatist fight, and increasing terrorism dramatically... so Russia is actually less safe today than it was before" Putin took office.
Leveling such sharp criticism at Putin from within Russia could be dangerous. Indeed, several Yukos partners who have fled to Israel claim that they were targeted for prosecution by Putin because of their vocal political opposition to the government.
Being half-Jewish, Kasparov would be eligible to make aliya should he find himself under similar or even worse threats.
"I don't even want to discuss a situation in which I would be forced to leave my native country," he said. "I doubt I would ever have to leave... but I would consider all possibilities."
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