Russian chess legend says war in Ukraine is a ‘battle between freedom and tyranny’

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NEW YORK – Chess is a cerebral game, but legendary Soviet grandmaster Garry Kasparov could make it look like a contact sport. When he was at the peak of his abilities in the mid-1980s, he approached the chessboard with the buzzing physical intensity of a wrestler sent to the wrong match.

Today, his relentless energy is directed squarely against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who approaches Kasparov with the same singular focus he once reserved for his Soviet nemesis, Anatoly Karpov — now serving as a pro-Putin parliamentarian. But when the Kremlin autocrat disgusts him, nothing infuriates Kasparov like Western hand-wringing about how much to help Ukraine, and for how long.

“Putin is not only attacking Ukraine. He attacks the whole system of international cooperation,” Kasparov told Yahoo News in a recent interview. “Ukraine is on the front lines of this struggle between freedom and tyranny.”

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

Last week’s congressional elections in the US could complicate aid to Ukraine, especially if Republican skepticism hardens into outright opposition. At a press conference last week, President Biden expressed hope that aid to Ukraine would continue, but was also angered by allegations that he had given Ukraine too much.

“We have not given Ukraine a blank check,” the president told reporters, referring to a complaint about the size of Ukraine-directed spending from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who will take up the role of speaker of the House in January. “There are many things Ukraine wants that we haven’t done.”

That’s exactly the kind of talk that frustrates Kasparov. He praises Biden’s support for the Ukrainian effort, which has been consistently complemented by European allies, but cannot envision its scope being scaled back. “It was much less than Ukraine needed and wanted, but much more than Putin expected.”

The war in Ukraine is more like poker than chess, a game of stare-downs and bluffs. On the chessboard, an opponent has nowhere to hide his pieces, but poker by its very nature is a game of incomplete information, of trying to guess and then being forced to act on those guesses.

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

Kasparov does not ignore those very real considerations, but he also refuses to be paralyzed by the infinite varieties of geopolitical speculation. For him, the war retains an undeniable moral clarity. “I believe Ukraine can and will win,” he says. “I think it’s inevitable. It’s a matter of cost. And every day of delay, of giving Ukraine what it needs to win, just drives these costs up.”

Vladimir Putin sits at a large desk with many telephones and a flat screen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Monday. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Absolutely unpalatable to Kasparov is the argument that Ukraine should demand peace, not because the war is going badly for Kiev, but because it is costly for Washington, London and Berlin.

That was the widely understood subtext of a letter sent to Biden by House progressives on Oct. 24, urging him to “follow any diplomatic avenue,” while pointing out — not unjustly — that the war “ fueling inflation and high oil prices for Americans in recent months.” A furore ensued, and the letter was recalled a day later, but not without the Russians noticing an increase in US reluctance to fund the Ukrainian resistance.

Kasparov finds such talk extremely dangerous. He thinks of the conflict in the Manichaean world of chess, where it is all about black and white, defeat or victory. Either the West beats Putin or Putin beats the West. “If we capitulate today in the face of Putin’s nuclear blackmail, who’s to say he won’t use the exact same blackmail five years later, six years later?” Kasparov wonders, his tone and expression suggesting that this is far from vain musings.

“And who’s to say,” he continues, “that other dictators around the world won’t look at this and say, ‘Oh, look at that. Is the West ready to capitulate to nuclear blackmail? Why don’t we do the same?’ And for countries that do not have nuclear weapons today? Why shouldn’t they have nuclear weapons if nuclear weapons are effective and help them get what they want?”

Rocket rises from smoke and flames shortly after takeoff near a green building and towers in a clearing of trees against a cloudy sky.

In a photo released Oct. 26, a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is being tested as part of Russia’s nuclear exercises in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia. (Press Service of the Russian Ministry of Defense via AP)

That dark scenario will most likely materialize in Taiwan, with an emboldened Xi Jinping bent on fully and definitively asserting China’s control over the island.

Kasparov was mostly stunned – and typically furious – by Elon Musk’s “peace plan”. which would in effect cede huge parts of Ukraine to Russia. Kremlin propagandists immediately embraced the idea, pointing to the condemnation of the US political and media establishment as evidence that Musk (who did not respond to a Yahoo News request for comment sent via Twitter) had spoken a forbidden, consensus-breaking truth.

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

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

Never particularly shy or attentive, Kasparov blames President Barack Obama for trying to “reset” relations with Putin shortly after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, in what was the Kremlin’s first foray into a sovereign nation since the fall of the Soviet Union. Later, Obama warned that if Russia crossed a “red line” in Syria and used chemical weapons in support of Bashar Assad’s regime, “it would have huge consequences.”

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

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

Russia used chemical weapons at the time. “And Obama blinked,” Kasparov complains, accusing the president of “weakness.” However, it is not clear what Obama — who already led two costly conflicts, in Afghanistan and Iraq — could have done to stop Putin, beyond a military intervention that would likely have been unpalatable to the American public. A representative for the former president did not respond to a request for comment.

No development encouraged Putin to invade Ukraine, Kasparov argues, like the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “I wouldn’t call it a withdrawal. It was a stampede,” he told Yahoo News. “And it was a disaster. And no doubt it contributed to Putin’s confidence.”

Today, the 59-year-old New York native — who has retired from playing chess professionally but still teaches MasterClass — leads the Renew Democracy Initiative, a nonprofit organization that closely coordinates relief efforts with nonprofit relief organizations working in Ukraine. , which director of RDI Uriel Epshtein says making sure supplies and funds get to the right people in the right places, rather than being wasted or lost.

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

Black and white image of Garry Kasparov in a dark turtleneck who appears to be posing with his left hand pointing slightly upwards.

Kasparov on Master Class. (PR Newswire via AP)

RDI has teamed up with retired US General Ben Hodges to produce short, polished videos that explain the state of war in digestible terms. It has also solicited and published essays from dissidents around the world in conjunction with CNN, part of a series called Voices of Freedom. Contributors included Egyptian-American dissident Mohamed Soltan and Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who was recently the target of an assassination attempt in New York.

“They have the credibility to break through our partisan shields,” says Epshtein, “to remind us that America is a force for good and can continue to be a force for good.”

That argument has been challenged by Putin’s dark tirades against what he has described as a West whose colonial bloodlust, he said, is married to an anti-Christian progressive agenda. As the war has gone from bad to worse for Russia, these anti-Western screeds have gotten sharper.

“Putin’s Russia is falling sharply,” says Kasparov. “I don’t believe Russia will be able to fight this war next spring.” Recent military advances by Ukraine, including most recently the liberation of Kherson, give hope for a final victory on the Ukrainian battlefield.

This is where Epshtein steps in: “It’s up to us,” he says.


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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