11.18.12

Garry Kasparov: Right On, Angela Merkel

The German chancellor tussled with Putin over his human-rights record. Good for her, opposition leader Garry Kasparov tells Eli Lake—but the West must offer more than just talk.

Chess master and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her denunciation of the Russian government’s human-rights record, but he said she must go further than public statements.

Kasparov provided a statement to The Daily Beast following an awkward public confrontation in Moscow between Merkel and Russian president Vladimir Putin in which Merkel singled out the Kremlin’s harsh sentence of two years in a labor camp for a member of the protest punk rock group Pussy Riot.

“Our friendship won’t be better, our economic cooperation won’t be better, if we sweep everything under the carpet and only say when we’re of a single opinion,” Merkel said to Putin on Friday.

Kasparov, who himself was arrested and beaten for protesting the trial of Pussy Riot, told The Daily Beast, “I am always happy to see a western leader bringing up human rights to Putin, especially to his face in Moscow. I was beginning to think the breed had gone extinct. Chancellor Merkel’s words are welcome, but unless they are followed by action they will be taken by Putin and his gang as just another sign that even when the West actually talks about repression it means nothing, and that it’s all still business as usual.”

In the recent past, Germany has particularly been quiet in regard to the deterioration of civil society in Russia. Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroder, for example, praised Putin as a “flawless democrat.” After leaving office in 2005, Schroder took a job as the head of the shareholder’s committee of a joint venture with Russia’s national oil company, Gazprom.

Kasparov spoke last week at Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, where he said he predicted Putin would not serve out his six-year term. But Kasparov also said the replacement to Putin could be worse for Russians if the opposition did not present a credible political alternative.

For now, Kasparov is urging western governments to target Russian leaders who are implicated in human-rights violations. A model for this approach is legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday that would ban the travel to America of Russian officials implicated in the 2009 murder and torture of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky had threatened to expose a $230 million corruption scandal at Russia’s interior ministry, where the officials at the ministry pocketed tax refund money.

“Asking Putin to respect human rights like you’re asking him for a cup of tea is hopeless,” Kasparov said Saturday. “The crackdown here has gotten worse even in recent weeks, with a broad new treason law, an internet censorship law, and more arrests of the opposition. Merkel has the power and the responsibility to hold the Putin regime accountable for violations of international law and human rights. The U.S. House just passed the Magnitsky Act to hold such violators accountable, and the EU Council of Ministers should do the same.”