In today’s New York Times, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who has forsaken competitive chess for pro-democratic political activism, challenges the Western democracies to take “a tougher stand” against the increasing trend toward authoritarianism in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Garik writes:
Opposition activists and journalists are routinely arrested and interrogated. The Kremlin, in complete control of the judiciary, loots private businesses and then uses state-controlled companies to launder the money abroad.
Mr. Bush and Europe’s leaders apparently believe it is best to disregard such unpleasantness for the sake of receiving Russia’s cooperation on security and energy. This cynical and morally repugnant stance has also proven ineffective. Just as in the old days, Moscow has become an ally for troublemakers and anti-democratic rulers around the world. Nuclear aid to Iran, missile technology to North Korea, military aircraft to Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela, and a budding friendship with Hamas: these are the West’s rewards for keeping its mouth shut about human rights in Russia.
Read the entire essay here.
Meanwhile, my old friend Jess Kaplan, a frequent visitor to Moscow, has been following with close attention the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the self-made Muscovite entrepreneur who built, under the Yeltsin privatization programs of the 1990s, one of the world’s largest personal fortunes. Khodorkovsky parlayed his riches into a major stake in the energy company YUKOS, and was sitting on top of the world until the company was charged with tax evasion in 2003 by the Russian government, its assets frozen, and Mr. Khodorkovsky sent off to prison. Some say this was politically motivated by his support of opposition groups, others that the charges were fair, and stemmed from abuses by Khodorkovsky of the privatization process. Jess has sent me a link to a recent document by Khodorkovsky [PDF format] in which he argues that what is needed in Russia is for Mr. Putin to step down, “in accordance with the Constitution”, and for the system of government to swing back to the left (an interesting position for an oligarch to take). Learn more about all of this here.