Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kasparov Checkmates Putin

Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov has written a brilliant and incisive book, Winter Is Coming, about post-Soviet Russia and its imperial leader, Vladamir Putin.  Here’s a thorough review of that book from a reader at

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5 Stars
Explaining Why Vladimir Putin Is an Ever Present Danger
By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on October 28, 2015

It would be easy to dismiss “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” as a polemical attack upon Vladimir Putin, but Garry Kasparov, with the assistance of Mig Greengard, has written a most thoughtful account on the history of Russian politics since the rapid decline and fall of the Soviet Union; a cautionary tale explaining how the democratic aspirations of the Russian people were derailed by uninspired leadership from Boris Yeltsin, the unlikely succession and subsequent consolidation of power by his successor Vladimir Putin, and the West’s inability in promoting democracy during Yeltsin’s rule, and then, in turning a blind eye to Putin’s revival of a one-party dictatorship. “Winter Is Coming” should be viewed as required reading by politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen throughout the Free World who think we should maintain “normal” diplomatic and commercial ties with Putin’s dictatorial Russian regime. What makes “Winter Is Coming” especially compelling is in recognizing it as a notable historical overview of Russian politics in the last quarter century seen personally through the eyes of Kasparov, a notable Russian democrat and critic of Putin’s kleptocratic dictatorship. A notable critic who recognized immediately, the seismic shifts in Russian politics months, even years, before many Western diplomats, historians and political scientists. (For example, he predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union months before it occurred, offering a realistic assessment of current Soviet politics which eluded American foreign policy experts, including the likes of Brent Scowcroft and Condoleeza Rice.)

Kasparov offers us a far more realistic appraisal of Putin than historian Stephen F. Cohen, who has argued consistently that Putin is more a creature of the nomenklatura – the entrenched Soviet Union-born bureaucracy – and the powerful oligarchs controlling and manipulating Russia’s economy. Instead of this relatively passive view of Putin, we are introduced instead to a real-life Mafia don emerging from the pages of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” trilogy, “The Last Don”, “Omerta” and “The Sicilian”; all of which Kasparov regards as required reading for anyone wishing to understand Putin and what makes him tick:

“…..A Puzo fan sees the Putin government more accurately; a strict hierarchy, extortion, intimidation, a tough-guy image, eliminating traitors, the code of secrecy and loyalty, and, above all, a mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia.”

“ As long as you are loyal to the capo, he will protect you. If one of the inner circle goes against the capo, his life his forfeit. Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khordorkovsky, wanted to go straight and run his Yukos oil company as a legitimate corporation and not as another cog in Putin’s KGB Inc., he quickly found himself in a Siberian prison, his company dismantled and looted, and its pieces absorbed by the state mafia apparatus of Rosneft and Gazprom. Private companies were absorbed into the state while at the same time the assets of the state companies moved into private accounts. State and corporate power merged. It became a perverse combination of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in which the profits were privatized and the expenses were nationalized.” (pages 160 -161)

Kasparov condemns all of Ronald Reagan’s successors as President of the United States, who have consistently tried normalizing relations with Russia, instead of demanding extensive and radical reforms to promote democratic values and free market capitalism. Some of his worst criticism is aimed specifically at both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whom he thinks missed ample opportunities to demand genuine reforms from Putin’s government, possibly discouraging it from seizing territories in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine. He also blames Russia’s first post-Soviet Union president, Boris Yeltsin, for not instituting political and economic reforms akin to those implemented by Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, who, as president of Czechoslovakia, ensured not only a peaceful dissolution of his country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also the survival of democracy and free market capitalism, allowing both to become spectacular political and economic successes in post-Soviet Empire Eastern Europe. He casts ample doubt on the actions of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, calling into question Snowden’s asylum request, and implying that Snowden may have been aided and abetted by Putin’s KGB. Kasparov concludes by demanding that Western – and indeed, all of the Free World - political leaders try emulating the moral leadership shown by Reagan and Havel, in insisting that human rights remain the cornerstone of any diplomatic and economic overtures to the Putin regime and other newly ascendant enemies of the free world, especially ISIS in the Middle East. Kasparov thinks that when Western political leaders cease offering appeasement to the Putin regime and other dictatorships, then we may no longer fear that “Winter is Coming”.

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