David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Lenin’s Tomb, has recently revisited the country he knows so well. And what he has to show for it is an extensive piece on Garry Kasparov, arguably the best chess player in history, and his dangerous move into the political arena. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, neither political dissent nor political opposition goes over terribly well. Since he took the reins of power in 2000, more than a dozen journalists critical of Putin have turned up dead. So have some politicians. Then there was the dramatic case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent turned Putin critic, who died of radiation poisoning in London last fall. All of the cases remain “unresolved.”
At great personal and financial cost, Kasparov is trying to lay the foundation for a legitimate political opposition. Getting there, however, won’t be easy. For one, Putin, having shored up Russia’s economy and national psyche, is immensely popular, having upwards to an 80% popularity rating. Even the old dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn likes him. Then, there’s the fact that Putin has almost a tsarist, “L’État, c’est moi” kind of grip on power. In a podcasted interview (iTunes — Feed — Web Site) that grew out of Remnick’s article, Kasparov talks about his expectations for the next presidential election in Russia, when Putin is constitutionally required to cede presidential powers to another politician. Here, he tells Remnick that Putin will continue calling the shots because, as he puts it, Russia’s political elite is so feckless that they would “vote to make Putin’s dog the prime minister.” This strikes the listener as a strange but timely comment, especially in light of Putin’s announcement yesterday that he may seek to become Russia’s prime minister, which would essentially give him the chance to continue exercising power from what one diplomat has called “a parallel structure.” That’s a move that should prove hard for Kasparov or any other Putin opponent to parry.
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