The world-famous grandmaster and founder of the “Forum of Free Russia,” Garry Kasparov, was one of the initiators of issuing “good Russian” passports and recently spoke at the Munich Security Conference with other oppositionists instead of representatives of official Moscow. Zaborona editor-in-chief Kateryna Sergatskova spoke with him about whether a Russian opposition is possible under Putin, whether the Russian Federation is at risk of disintegration after losing the war, and what he thinks about oppositionists who ask for the lifting of sanctions against oligarchs.
Do you believe that there are partisans in Russia?
So far, there are no conditions for armed resistance in Russia. It is like Germany in 1944. The regime is still in control, and it is difficult to imagine a thoughtfully organized resistance, although acts of sabotage are very real and have even taken place.
How would you comment on the penetration of a group of Russian saboteurs into the Bryansk region? [In March, fighters of the Russian Volunteer Corps, which is part of the International Legion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, entered the Bryansk region.]
As for penetration from the outside, from Ukrainian territory, that’s another story. It is also, of course, not a serious military factor, but psychologically it was a strong blow. Especially taking into account the reports of the governors of the border regions, who reported on the strengthening of the border, it suddenly turns out that people can come in, capture the village for an hour, take pictures, and leave. I repeat: I do not see any military implications since I do not know how serious a military force the Russian Volunteer Corps is.
However, the fact that today there are Russian citizens fighting on the side of Ukraine in parts of the Armed Forces is impressive. And, in my opinion, the West began to understand that there are many Russian citizens who, if they have not broken with Putin’s regime already, are ready to consider various possibilities of confrontation.
Why do you consider this a PR stunt?
If they show me the opposite – they show hundreds of fighters who fight as part of the Armed Forces — I will agree that I am wrong. I know that there are two battalions of Belarusian patriots fighting in the Armed Forces. But so far, I am not aware of hundreds of Russian citizen fighters who would fight in regular units of the Armed Forces as a separate battalion. I don’t have confirmation, but I suspect it’s a few, at best, dozens of people, which is actually fine too. It is important that some are ready to show determination to fight the Putin regime.
But so far, this is not a trend that can change anything. However, the PR effect of these actions is quite significant, as it shows how Putin’s regime cannot cope even with such local activities.
Why do you think the Belarusians formed their battalion of several hundred people and the Russians did not?
It is a long, sad history of the Russian opposition. In Belarus, opposition to the regime has long since acquired such organized forms of mass resistance. Let’s not forget that there were protests in Belarus already in 2010, after another re-election of Lukashenko — of course, falsified. Lukashenko’s regime has always been viewed as dictatorial in the West.
But, to my deep regret, the attitude towards the regime of various opposition groups was tolerable in Russia. The majority sent specific signals: they say that Putin’s state is, of course, not democratic, but it is possible to live, there are elections, and you can participate in them. There was an illusion of this active social life. A large number of quasi-political organizations participated in local elections. And this created a completely different background both in the West and inside Russia.
The thing is that Russian society — its thinking part — has only now begun to realize that Russia is a fascist dictatorship. We created the “Free Russia Forum” and shouted as hard as we could that war was inevitable, that the regime was becoming fascist, and that it is a dictatorship.
At one time, you left Russia. What has become the point of no return for you?
The point of no return was a summons to the Investigative Committee. It was clear that my radical position made my chances of getting out of this building minimal. As Boris Nemtsov said, you will enter as a witness; if you leave, you will leave as a suspect. I was convinced I could only do something for my country by remaining free. And because of that, I stayed abroad. It was 10 years ago.
Arguments about who was right or wrong continued for many years. We were accused of leaving, but the real fighters against the regime are in the country without fear of reprisals. The Kremlin harshly eradicated all anti-imperial sentiments. It was no accident that Boris Nemtsov was killed. He was always an opponent of the empire and supported Ukraine. He opposed the war.
Who can change something in Russia if everyone has left?
From the very beginning of hostilities, I say that the beginning of the liberation of Russia from Putin’s fascism is the Ukrainian flag in Sevastopol. There are no other options. All these conversations that everyone has left are also popular in the West; they say, look, someone needs to stay there and fight. Well, it’s funny to talk about it. Who can do what there now?
What can actually be done is to start organizing the hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of people who have found themselves abroad and do not want to stay in Putin’s Russia. Why is consciousness changing so slowly in Russia today? Precisely because, for many people, what happened on February 24 was a shock. Of course, Putin is bad, he took Crimea, got into Syria, and did a lot of bad things, horror, but not horror-horror. It is the background created for many years by those opposition representatives who considered it possible to interact with this regime in any form.
The man inside the Russian Federation is Navalny, who is in prison. Does he manage to change anything from there?
A person made a decision involving a huge personal risk to health and life. I do not know how he approved it or who advised him. Politically, in my opinion, it did not have much effect; there were hopes for some mass demonstrations, but today it is evident that being free abroad, Navalny would have brought much more benefit to the common cause.
Why do the majority of citizens who left Russia not support Ukraine?
I do not know. Let’s say 50% are probably in limbo. Only recently, representatives of various leaders of the Russian opposition have said that Crimea is Ukraine. The process moves slowly.
It is necessary to look at the slogans that were hung at the protest actions on February 24 by representatives of the Russian diaspora from Yerevan to Riga and San Francisco. So, most of them did carry the posters “Year of war,” “Year of terror,” and “Year of sorrow,” but, in my opinion, this is an obvious dissonance with what was happening. These people continue to live in the paradigm that everything was normal until February 24. We call them “February 23 liberals”. And those events that we organized with our organizations, “Forum of Free Russia” and “Russian Committee of Action,” there was always the slogan “Victory of Ukraine — freedom of Russia.”
Gradually, this trend begins to win. But people who have been in this imaginary world for many years are only now beginning to understand that there is no other option for liberation from Putinism except for the crushing victory of Ukraine. Another thing is that many of them still fear that the release of Sevastopol will lead to a chain reaction and the collapse of Russia.
Again, I confirm that the war is criminal, the [Russian] regime is illegitimate, and Ukraine is united. It is the basis for a Russian to start participating in the processes of integration into the free world. It, in our opinion, should become a condition for obtaining any documents, visas, etc. While there is no such declaration, I believe that the citizens of Russia should not receive the necessary assistance from the West.
What do you think about the scenario of the collapse of Russia?
The war will end, without a doubt, with the victory of Ukraine, and this, as we know from history, inevitably leads to colossal upheavals inside. A dictator who has lost a war does not stay in power — especially considering that Crimea has become the basis of mythology for Putin. The liberation of Crimea and the defeat of the Russian army both in Crimea and in Donbas create a new political and moral situation.
Russia is the last empire that exists in the world, and its time has long passed. In 1991, the process of the empire’s collapse did not end. Russia retained the imperial system of governance and, accordingly, imperial ambitions — hence all these wars were fought on the perimeter of the former Soviet Union: Georgia and Transnistria.
Two options are possible here. The first is total disintegration. The second is the loss of some territories because, in my opinion, independence supporters will prevail in some Tatarstan or Bashkortostan. I understand why the complete collapse of Russia seems so desirable for Ukraine. I do not wish in any way to question the sincerity of people who hope that this terrible imperial neighbor will cease to exist. The problem is that a total collapse would lead to chaos over a vast area, usually ending up in many small dictatorships. It is clear that in many regions of Russia, forces far from democracy will win.
For many Western politicians — those trying to develop a strategy for the future — the question of Russia’s position (and how it will continue to exist) is quite essential. It is impossible to imagine the total disappearance of Russia from the world map, and the option of the appearance of many small dictatorship states due to China’s obvious absorption of huge territories with natural resources is a rather pessimistic scenario in terms of the struggle for freedom and democracy in the world.
In your opinion, how did people who lived in Russia try to adapt to the regime?
It is a very correct verb that clearly reflects the behavior algorithm — “to adapt.” This Putin war with the entire free world was already announced in 2007 at the conference in Munich when he said that NATO should return to the borders of 1997.
Last year I had a debate with Leonid Volkov [the head of the Oleksii Navalny campaign headquarters and the Anti-Corruption Foundation organizer]. And so he says: you criticize us, that we did this, that and this — and it would be better if we did nothing? I said: yes, better. In fact, they ideologically corrupted the people, claiming that changes are possible in Russia without the harsh actions we proposed — sanctions and isolation of the Putin regime. Much money was spent to support the myth that Russia has social and political life. Putin was preparing for a full-scale war while maintaining all opportunities to interact with the West. The Russian budget was replenished thanks to energy resources, and Nord Stream 2 was being built.
Recently, it became known that Volkov sent a letter to the European Commission requesting to lift the sanctions against the owner of Alfa Group, Mykhailo Fridman. How did you react to that?
“Forum of Free Russia” has been publishing “Putin’s list” for a long time. Friedman and friends have long been included in it. It is undoubtedly one of the system-forming banks of the Putin regime. At most, Friedman and Aven have long and successfully conducted activities to whitewash the Putin regime abroad. They financed many organizations that engaged in lobbying for Putin.
Let’s talk about the importance of the activities of Russian oligarchs Friedman and Aven. I will put them at the top of this funding pyramid because of the amount of money pumped into America, Israel, and Europe to support lobbying structures. It is a long list of organizations that have always been under the charitable wing of the “Alfa Group.” Volkov’s letter appeared [in the public domain] not by chance but as a response to [journalist and editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy Oleksiy] Venediktov that he worked in the Moscow City Hall. But everyone in Russia was “smeared” — that’s why the authorities supported them.
Hypothetically, would you support the lifting of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and politicians if you were sure that they would keep the opposition and help build the Russia of the future?
This question is easy to answer because [the coalition movement of the Russian opposition in exile] “Russian Action Committee” has fixed the transition principles from one camp to another. There is a war going on, and you are either on Putin’s side or going over to us. First, the signing of a declaration states: the war is criminal, the regime is illegitimate, and Ukraine is united. Such a public statement is essential.
With oligarchs, the task is more complex because there are tremendous resources. I cannot give any final recommendations, but I am sure that to this declaration, they should add a corresponding check to support Ukraine — so to speak, to buy an “indulgence” for past sins. I don’t know if it’s half the fortune or more. But it should be a check for many billions of dollars, with which a person confirms that he has left Putin and is ready to give a part of his property to support Ukraine.
How do you feel about one of Russia’s most famous oligarchs, Leonard Blavatnik? He is not sanctioned, he owns a fund that regularly helps Ukraine, but he is on your “Putin list.” Has he received an “indulgence,” or have they not reached him yet with sanctions?
After all, Blavatnik is a citizen of the United States and Britain. He did not bear such responsibility as Friedman and Aven and did not take such clear actions to whitewash Putin’s regime. Our list includes people with varying degrees of responsibility.
The white-blue-white flag became a symbol of anti-war protests in Russia. How do you like this tricolor?
I am absolutely used to it. Its organic nature is because it arose spontaneously. In February of last year, a video appeared in which someone’s hand erased a red stripe. It is an important ideological component of the flag — it should not have the color of blood. It is the path to repentance and understanding how much evil Russia has committed.