A day after speaking to US policy leaders at the Heritage Foundation, Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov spoke to Daily Beast senior national security correspondent Eli Lake about the failures of the US-Russia reset policy. With Vladimir Putin all but guaranteed to win the presidential election next year, Kasparov began by asking Western countries to abstain from playing along with the Kremlin’s games:
“We are asking Americans and Europeans not to send observers,” Kasparov said in an exclusive interview. “You understand Putin will get whatever he wants. What is the point of pretending this is an election? It’s a charade. Don’t interfere with it, just don’t pay respect to the charade.”
The opposition leader had similar words about the reset itself:
Kasparov, a former world chess champion, was critical of both presidents and blunt about the reset. “It’s a disaster,” he said. “From day one they bet on Medvedev as a counterweight to Putin. The whole idea of reset was founded on the false assumption Medvedev was an independent politician. He is not.”
Later in the interview, Kasparov acknowledged that his views on Obama’s Russia policy has not won him any friends at the State Department. “They have no interest in hearing my very specific views,” he said. Kasparov spoke Tuesday at the conservative Heritage Foundation for a conference critical of the reset with Russia.
Kasparov did not limit his criticism of U.S.-Russia policy to Obama. He said the Bush administration had failed to account for Putin as well. “This is not a problem of this administration. To a certain degree they inherited it from the Bush administration,” he said.
Kasparov said Bush largely ignored Putin’s consolidation of power during his term because the Russian had promised considerable counterterrorism cooperation after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush and his first national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, were naïve in “betting on this so-called liberal wing in the Kremlin and expecting Putin to walk away quietly,” he said.
A new memoir out by Condoleezza Rice indicates that the Bush administration at least realized that the Putin they thought they knew was not the Putin they found at the end of his term:
Kasparov said he largely agreed with Rice’s take. “That is the right assessment,” he said. “But the mistake was made in the first meeting. Putin was looking around and testing the water and he quickly discovered the West was weak.”
Kasparov said Putin is a master of psychologically exploiting Western leaders in order to get the freedom of action he desires in his own sphere of influence, the Soviet Union’s former republics and satellites.
“Since Hitler there was no leader as successful at playing the psychological games with leaders in the Western world,” Kasparov said. “The difference is Hitler used tanks. Putin is using banks.” Kasparov later clarified that he was not accusing Putin of launching a genocide against an ethnic minority and that his analogy only applied to how two authoritarian leaders played Western leaders off each other.
Read the full interview at the Daily Beast.
The interview is also available in Russian here.