Kasparov Ends Bid for Russian Presidency

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 14, 2007

MOSCOW, Dec. 13 -- Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and relentless critic of President Vladimir Putin, has ended his long-shot presidential bid, citing official harassment he said prevented him from holding a legally required nomination meeting.

"There is no choice in Russia," Kasparov said, speaking to reporters Thursday in a town about 60 miles south of Moscow where he attended the funeral of a supporter who died after allegedly being beaten by police at an opposition rally. "March 2 will just be the calendar date when the victor of the Kremlin power struggle is declared."

Kasparov said his supporters were unable to rent a large hall in Moscow to hold a convention to nominate him -- either because landlords were afraid of being associated with him or because they were directly threatened by the authorities.

Opposition groups in Russia routinely complain about the difficulty of renting meeting space. They say that when they do secure a hall, members often arrive to find it has been closed by authorities.

Under Russian law, a candidate must be nominated by the vote of at least 500 people at a public meeting. The deadline passed Thursday for holding such a convention and forwarding its decision to the election authorities.

Even if Kasparov had managed to hold a meeting, he would still have faced the formidable task of assembling 2 million signatures, a requirement for candidates who are not nominated by registered political parties.

The Other Russia coalition, which Kasparov heads, is not a registered party. Police have often violently broken up the rallies it has staged over the past year.

Russian officials insist that the group acts illegally to attract attention and that its visibility in the Western news media is completely at odds with its standing among the Russian public.

But Other Russia and opposition political parties argue that in a heavily controlled political environment, where the broadcast media are firmly in the Kremlin's pocket, they have no way to wage a credible campaign.

A number of opposition figures have begun to discuss backing a single candidate. But the prospects of unity are dim in view of Kremlin opponents' long history of self-defeating infighting.

Kasparov's coalition said its supporters were harassed while attempting to attend the funeral Thursday of 22-year-old Yuri Chervochkin, who died this month. Two busloads of supporters on their way from Moscow to the funeral in the town of Serpukhov were briefly detained by police.

Dozens of riot police then followed the group to the funeral, and one of Kasparov's aides said the officers laughed and talked during the service. "It was absolutely a disgrace, the way they acted," said Denis Bilunov, according to an Associated Press report.

Local prosecutors said Chervochkin's death is under investigation.

Kasparov's wife and daughter were detained Wednesday at St. Petersburg's airport, where officials said the daughter's documents were not in order. Their flight had departed by the time they were released.

This week, Putin endorsed his loyal lieutenant Dmitry Medvedev to be his successor as president.

A poll taken before Putin spoke suggests Medvedev will coast to victory. According to the poll, released this week by the independent Levada Center, Medvedev will win 35 percent of the vote. Of those polled, 38 percent said they would vote for two other pro-Kremlin candidates, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Both men have now said they back Medvedev, and their supporters will likely swing into Medvedev's column.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company