The chess master is backing peaceful – if often illegal – urban protests of what he calls Russia's 'police state.'
His trademark curly hair is going gray, but the boyish grin is still in place.
Garry Kasparov, who reigned over the chess world for almost two decades, still fills a room with his intense energy. But since retiring two years ago, the lifetime grandmaster has hurled himself into the less cerebral and far more turbulent domain of Russian politics.
As head of the liberal oppositionist United Civil Front, and chief eminence of an anti-Kremlin coalition called The Other Russia, Mr. Kasparov is championing a risky strategy of confronting what he calls President Vladimir Putin's "police state" through peaceful – if often illegal – urban protests.
The goal, he says, is to compel the Kremlin to give up plans for a tightly managed succession from Mr. Putin to a new leader in a year's time, and to open the process for a free and fair choice. "In a chess game, when your king is under attack, you have to defend," says Kasparov, enumerating what he sees as the dire threats to democracy in Russia. "We had to try something, so we tried creating The Other Russia. And it worked.
"Beneath this illusion of stability," he adds, "there is boiling protest and growing economic disparity. The only way out is to have real, competitive, and free elections."
Arrests, water cannons at protests
In St. Petersburg, in early March, an estimated 5,000 demonstrators chanting "freedom!" and "Russia without Putin!" broke through a cordon of riot police and surged toward Palace Square, where the Russian Revolution was staged 90 years ago. Dozens were arrested, but Kasparov insists it was Russia's biggest protest rally in years and "our first great victory." At a smaller gathering in the Volga city of Nizhni Novgorod in late March, thousands of police backed by helicopters and water-cannons blocked protesters from reaching the city's central square. The next protest is slated for Moscow on April 14.