Vladimir Putin will not last the next six years of his presidential term.
That is the prediction of one of the Russian president’s sharpest opponents, Garry Kasparov, a former chess champion and national hero in his native Russia who in recent years has started a second career as a dissident political figure.
“I will bet my bottom dollar that Putin will not last six years,” Kasparov said on Thursday during Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit in Washington. But he cautioned something worse could replace the current Russian leader if the opposition does not present a credible alternative to the Russian people. “I’m not telling you it will be good,” he cautioned.
Earlier this year, Putin won Russian presidential elections despite earlier pledges not to seek the office. When President Obama came into office, the White House reached out to Dmitry Medvedev, the new Russian president, as Putin took a lower profile role as prime minister. This March, the two leaders switched places, securing another term for Putin’s party, United Russia.
Putin’s decision to run again for office reawakened a protest movement in Moscow and the emergence of a new generation of activists like the punk band Pussy Riot, which would perform impromptu concerts in public landmarks like Russia’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The new tactic made the group’s members a target of the police. They were arrested in March and their trial on charges of religious hatred and hooliganism began in July. Kasparov protested the trials and was beaten and arrested in August for protesting the pending guilty verdict.
Kasparov said the new protests sparked by the arrest and trial of Pussy Riot were important. “It’s the first time during Putin’s rule that we had hundreds of thousands of people in the streets.”
The protests will likely not be enough. “The utmost task for the opposition is how to offer a vision for the future,” Kasparov said. “The moment people realize we have a way out of this impasse, the Putin regime will crumble overnight.”
For now, Kasparov is asking for the U.S. government to begin to recognize the true character of the new Russian leader. “No one thinks you can have reset with the Chinese. No one calls Chinese communist leaders, ‘democrats.’ So why offer Putin democratic credentials? You should not be mistaken. It’s a form of intellectual self-deception.”