Russian chess player calls war in Ukraine a ‘battle between freedom and tyranny’

NEW YORK – Chess is a cerebral game, but famed Soviet grandmaster Garry Kasparov can make it look like a contact sport. When he was at the height of his powers in the mid-1980s, he sent contests the wrong way with the buzzing physical intensity of a wrestler on a chessboard.

Today, his relentless energy is directed squarely against Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Kasparov approaches with the same singular focus he once reserved for his Soviet nemesis Anatoly Karpov—who, as it happens, Now serves as a pro-Putin MP. But if the Kremlin despot despises him, nothing enrages Kasparov like Western hands to help Ukraine, and for how long.

“Putin is not only attacking Ukraine. He is attacking the entire system of international cooperation. “Ukraine is on the front lines of this battle between freedom and tyranny.”

Seated Garry Kasparov holds a microphone with his right hand and gestures with his left.

Garry Kasparov at the Congress of Free Russia in Vilnius, Lithuania, on September 1. (Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images)

Last week’s congressional elections in the US could complicate Ukrainian aid, especially if Republican skeptics harden into outright resistance. Speaking at a news conference last week, President Biden expressed hope that aid to Ukraine would continue – but also alleged that he had given Ukraine too much.

“We haven’t given Ukraine a blank check,” the president told reporters, pointing to a complaint about limits on Ukraine-focused spending made by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who will assume the role of House speaker in January. . “There are a lot of things Ukraine wanted that we didn’t do.”

This is exactly the kind of thing that frustrates Kasparov. He admires Biden’s support for the Ukrainian effort, which has been steadily complemented by European allies, but can’t imagine reducing its scope. “It was far less than what Ukraine needed and wanted, but far more than Putin expected.”

The war in Ukraine is closer to poker than chess, a contest of snooping and bluffing. On a chessboard, an opponent has nowhere to hide his pieces, but poker by its very nature is a game of incomplete information, trying to make guesses and then being forced to act on those guesses. Is.

Is a nuclear strike one of the cards that Putin is playing? How long can an energy-starved Europe last before folding? How long will the US aid last?

Kasparov doesn’t ignore those real ideas, but he also refuses to be paralyzed by the infinite variety of geopolitical speculation. For him, war retains an unmistakable moral clarity. “I believe that Ukraine can and will win,” he says. “I think it’s inevitable. It’s a matter of cost. And every day of delay in giving Ukraine what it needs to win is just adding to that cost.

Vladimir Putin sits at a large desk with several phones and a flat screen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a videoconferencing at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Monday. (Gavril Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Kasparov argues that Ukraine should sue for peace, not because the war is going badly for Kyiv, but because it is costly for Washington, London and Berlin.

The widely understood subtext of a letter sent by House progressives to Biden on October 24, in which he urged them to “pursue every diplomatic avenue” was—not to be mistaken—that the war was “inflation-fueling.” and high oil prices for Americans” recent months. An uproar ensued, and the letter was recalled a day later, but not without the Russians taking note of the growing American reluctance to fund the Ukrainian resistance.

Kasparov finds such things extraordinarily dangerous. He thinks of the struggle in the Manichean world of chess, where there is only black and white, defeat or victory. Either the West defeats Putin, or Putin defeats the West. “If we surrender in light of Putin’s nuclear blackmail today, who’s to say he won’t use the same exact blackmail five years from now, six years from now?” Kasparov wonders, his tone and expression suggesting that this is far from an idle thought.

“And who’s to say,” he continues, “that other dictators around the world won’t see this and say, ‘Oh, look at this. The West is willing to commit nuclear blackmail? Why don’t we do the same thing?’ And for the countries that don’t have nuclear weapons today? If nuclear weapons are effective, and helping them get what they want, why shouldn’t they have nuclear weapons?”

Missile rising from smoke and flames after flying near green building and tower in clearing of trees against cloudy sky.

In a photo released on October 26, a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is tested as part of Russia’s nuclear drills in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry press service via AP)

That dark scenario is most likely to be felt in Taiwan, with Xi Jinping fully and finally asserting China’s control of the island.

Kasparov was particularly frustrated – and, notably, enraged – by Elon Musk’s “peace plan,” Which would effectively hand over vast areas of Ukraine to Russia. Kremlin propagandists quickly embraced the idea, pointing to the condemnation of the US political and media establishment that Musk (who did not respond to a Yahoo News request for comment sent to Twitter) did something forbidden, consensus- The breaking truth was spoken.

Kasparov says of Musk, “He’s buying Russian propaganda points.” “It’s very, very harmful.”

Kasparov left Russia in 2013, frustrated by the Putin regime’s ever-deepening repression. In 2015 he published “Winter Is Coming”, an urgent warning to Western policymakers about Putin, which he called “clearly the greatest and most dangerous threat facing the world today”.

Never one to be particularly shy or circumspect, Kasparov accused President Barack Obama of trying to “reset” relations with Putin after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was the first invasion by the Kremlin into a sovereign nation. Later, Obama warned that if Russia crossed a “red line” in Syria and used chemical weapons in support of Bashar Assad’s regime, there would be “enormous consequences.”

Putin and Obama before shaking hands in front of the Russian and American flags.

Putin and President Barack Obama in a bilateral meeting during the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico in 2012. (Carolyn Caster/AP)

Then Russia used chemical weapons. “And Obama blinked,” Kasparov said, accusing the president of “weakness”. However, it is unclear what Obama – who is already managing two costly conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq – could have done to stop Putin, short of a military intervention that would likely have been unpleasant to the American public. A representative for the former president did not respond to a request for comment.

Kasparov argues that no development encouraged Putin to invade Ukraine, such as the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. “I wouldn’t call it an evacuation. It was a stampede,” he told Yahoo News. “And it was a disaster. And undoubtedly, it boosted Putin’s confidence.

Today, the 59-year-old New York resident — who is retired from professional chess but still teaches a class on MasterClass — runs the Renew Democracy Initiative, a non-profit that partners aid efforts with non-profit relief organizations working in Ukraine. closely coordinated. , who is the executive director of RDI uriel epshtein This ensures that supplies and money reach the right people, in the right places, rather than being wasted or lost.

“It’s our responsibility to give them what they need not only to survive, but enough to actually win the war,” Epshtein, the son of Soviet immigrants who settled in New Jersey, told Yahoo News. He also described efforts to create what is known as an “information space” that the Kremlin has tried to fill with its own propaganda.

Black and white image of Garry Kasparov in a black turtleneck sweater posing with his left arm slightly raised.

Kasparov on Masterclass. (AP Newswire via AP)

RDI works with retired US General Ben Hodges to produce short, sophisticated videos that explain the war situation in digestible terms. It has solicited and published essays by dissidents around the world in partnership with CNN, part of a series called Voices of Freedom. Contributors include, among others, Egyptian-American dissident Mohamed Soltan and Iranian journalist Masih Alainjad, who was recently the target of an assassination attempt in New York.

“He has the credibility to break down our partisan shields,” says Epshtein, “to remind us that America is a force for good, and it can continue to be a force for good.”

That argument is challenged by Putin’s black arrows, which he describes as the West, whose colonial bloodlust has, in his words, been married to an anti-Christian progressive agenda. As the war got worse for Russia, these anti-Western screeds only got sharper.

Kasparov says, “Putin’s Russia is on a steep decline.” “I do not believe that Russia will be able to conduct this war until next spring.” Recent military advances by Ukraine, including the recent liberation of Kherson, give hope for a final Ukrainian battlefield victory.

Here Epshtein intervenes: “It’s up to us,” he says.

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