Kasparov: Russian Election a Farce

The Associated Press
Friday, November 30, 2007; 3:14 PM

MOSCOW -- The former world chess champion is awaiting his opponent's next move.

Garry Kasparov, released from jail after serving a five-day sentence for leading a protest against Vladimir Putin, acknowledged Friday he holds the weaker position in his confrontation with the Russian president.

But Kasparov predicted the upcoming election season, which begins with Sunday's parliamentary vote, will force the secretive Putin to reveal his strategy in the nail-biting political game gripping the country as Putin's time in the Kremlin runs out.

As the campaign for the March 2 presidential vote gathers pace, Kasparov said, the Kremlin's beleaguered, fractious opponents can regroup for a new push aimed at "dismantling Putin's regime."

He hopes their ranks will be strengthened following Sunday's vote, which will also push dissenting voices further to the margins.

With Putin leading the ticket of the main pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, government authorities have made an all-out effort to secure an overwhelming victory. Watchdog groups alleged this week that government officials across Russia have been using their powers to intimidate opposition campaign workers and candidates.

Putin has cast the election as a crucial vote for continuity _ and suggested that a convincing United Russia win would give him a popular mandate to retain influence after the presidential vote, in which he is barred from seeking a third term.

Kasparov labeled Sunday's vote a farce that will push the country toward dictatorship.

Maneuvering to maintain control, Putin has sprung a series of surprises on Russians, but kept them guessing about his specific plans. Unlike in chess, Kasparov said, "the only rule in our game with the Kremlin is that the Kremlin changes the rules whenever it sees fit."

"Materially, we are now the weaker side, we cannot dictate our game," the former world chess champion told a news conference. "And the rule I've learned all my life is that if your position is weaker, you must await the active moves of your opponent."

That will happen, he said, by the Dec. 23 deadline for nominating candidates for the presidential vote. Putin is expected to name a favored successor, who would almost certainly win; Kasparov said he did not rule out that Putin would seek to remain president.

"Now our opponent must make a move that will draw him into a game with rules ... and then we will be able to respond," he said. "Whatever happens, I believe that at the beginning of next year, a real opposition to the regime will begin to form in Russia."

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