Police Grab Ex-Chess Champ Who Opposes Putin

This weekend's demonstrations are perceived as a key test of popular support for the Russian pro-democratic movement before next year's presidential elections. The relatively small numbers seen at the Moscow rally suggest that the opposition has yet to fuel public imagination and draw high levels of support.

That said, the police strength deployed across Pushkin Square and Turgenev Square may have revealed a surprising level of insecurity in the Kremlin.

President Putin enjoys the kind of approval ratings most world leaders would relish. According to a public survey conducted by the internationally respected Levada Center in February 2007, Putin's approval rating was 81 percent.

What makes the democratic opposition's task even harder is the lack of a sufficiently populist leader. Kasparov is well known in Russia and abroad for becoming the youngest-ever world chess champion in 1985. But his Jewish roots and Azeri background (he hails from Baku, Azerbaijan -- formerly a Soviet republic) make him unacceptable to the majority of Russian voters.

Other opposition figures, like Kasyanov and the exiled tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, don't have anything like the respect commanded by Putin.

Furthermore, the anti-Putin movement is racked by division. A review of the various groups operating under the "Other Russia" umbrella -- from the far-left Workers' Party to pro-western liberals like Kasparov -- suggests that the only thing uniting them is a shared opposition to Putin. And that may not be enough to make a dent in the Russian President's armour. Yet.

Putin has stated that he will not run for a third term as president in 2008. He is still to designate an official successor, but speculation favors two men -- Russian first deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. Both are known for their loyalty to Putin, and are unlikely to swerve from the established political course.

In the meantime, however, the presence of Kasparov, Kasyanov, and hundreds more at today's demonstration would appear to show that this fight is not over yet.

After nearly six hours of questioning, Kasparov left the courtroom, promising to appeal the guilty verdict.

Speaking to ABCNews.com, he said: "This court rejected the very presumption of my innocence. I was the one who had to prove that I was innocent, although there were no concrete allegations against me.

"Nevertheless," Kasparov said, "we consider today a victory. The outrageous behaviour of the authorities only demonstrates that we live in a police state. But we are not going to stop here. We will continue to struggle."

He added, "Although the Russian constitution clearly stipulates that every citizen has the right to speak freely, the current regime doesn't respect that right. The opinion of the average man simply doesn't count."

But for the time being, at least, the average man in Russia appears to prefer backing Putin to supporting the opposition.

Tomek Rolski contributed to this report.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...