Russian opposition politician, world chess champion Garry Kasparov (Image: UNIAN)
Only if he is facing the complete collapse of his regime, Garry Kasparov says, will Putin consider invading the Baltic countries because NATO has made it clear that it will defend them and Moscow is unprepared to go to war with the West. Instead, the Kremlin leader is more likely to choose other targets, including possibly Libya.
In a wide-ranging interview with Apostrophe’s Svetlana Sheremetyeva, the opposition leader says that Putin’s limits depend entirely on “how poor the situation is in Russia” and that concerns above all how many Russian commanders may not be willing to carry out his orders.
“The more rapid the Western world and America shows decisiveness in opposing Putin’s aggression,” Kasparov says, “the greater the chances that this insanity will not seize the entire senior officer corps. Many aren’t ready to burn their bridges.” It is unlikely, for example, Moscow can find many Russian pilots prepared to challenge a US-imposed no fly zone in Syria.
But Putin may choose to intervene in Libya as part of his effort to flaunt his power and undermine the US, Kasparov continues. “Benghazi is a very sensitive point for the US” because of the death of its ambassador there. Moreover, Libya has oil and a deep water port that Russia could exploit.
But even more important perhaps, “in Libya, there is no government” and Moscow could intervene without giving money but simply arms, the Russian opposition figure says. It isn’t that Putin has a plan: he simply continues to pursue “his main goal, which is to sow chaos.” He might intervene in Saudi Arabia indirectly by pushing ISIS in its direction.
Asked what could stop Putin, Kasparov says that “when [he] hears ‘a coalition of states,’ this can mean only one thing, that no one wants do to anything… As long as Obama is in power, whose strategy is ‘leading from behind,’ nothing of course will happen.” Europe isn’t in a position to do anything as it has its own problems and lacks military power.
Anyone who comes after Obama “will be better,” Kasparov says, even Hillary Clinton who will adopt an increasingly tough line on Putin to win votes in the 2016 American elections.
There is “an infinite number” of ways to stop Putin, at least in comparison with Cold War times. Unlike the USSR, Russia is not self-sufficient, does not have an effective economy, and perhaps most important is not an attractive model for others. (That is why, he says, Moscow now spends so much on propaganda.)
The West’s sanctions regime up to now is only “cosmetic,” Kasparov says. “If American considered it necessary, the Russian economy could be destroyed in the course of several weeks.” Indeed, the US alone has sufficient resources to do that. “But for this, political will is necessary,” will of the kind Ronald Reagan had which allowed him not to fight because other countries knew he was prepared to.
What is needed now – indeed, what was needed when Putin moved into Crimea – is “a show of force” by the most powerful country in the world. Kasparov says that he believed that when Putin invaded Crimea, the US should have sent several capital ships to Odesa for a port visit.
The US ships wouldn’t have had to do anything. They would have had an impact simply by being there because then “Russian admirals could see the American flag with their binoculars.” That would have been enough.
It is important to understand, Kasparov continues, that “a cold war is above all a psychological one,” it is about bluffing and knowing when to hold and when to fold. “Putin bluffs constantly, but the West constantly throws down its cards,” the Russian opposition figure says.
Moreover, it should be clear that Putin’s economic model rests on three things: military spending, the force structures, and propaganda, and that “this cannot work for long.” If the West stands up for its principles and adopts a tough posture toward the Kremlin involving real sanctions, the end will come sooner rather than later.
Indeed, Russia is already approaching “a revolutionary situation” and “the theme of the disintegration has already long ceased to be a matter of science fiction.” A collapse in Russia will trigger “centrifugal forces” that could tear the country apart.
“First of all, this is a problem” in the North Caucasus given radical Islam because “it is far from clear how Kadyrov will behave in this situation, whether he will try to save the Putin regime or raise the green banner of Islam and declare himself the main defender of the faith in a new caliphate.”
Moreover, Russia has “a colossal problem with China which is not concealing its imperial ambitions and continues to consider at a minimum a third of Russian territory as part of the temporarily occupied territory of Greater China.”
And when there is a leadership change in Moscow, it will not be simple and it will trigger dis-integrative forces on the periphery. That is because “Putin is a dictator,” and dictators do not give place to their successors easily because they destroy, as Putin has, all the institutions in which such a transfer could be arranged.
Earlier in Russia, “there was a Central Committee, a Politburo,” and other institutions that could reflect on whether the leader was undermining the country’s and their own interests. “But the Putin dictatorship depends on a single individual,” and that will have fateful consequences for Russia.
Thus, Kasparov concludes, “the survival of Russia as a state in the 21st century will depend on the ability of society to engage in a massive cleansing operation, involving not just lustration but numerous criminal trials. Only then will it be able to overcome all “the dirt” that has been heaped upon it.