Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov rebuked the West for its “moral equivalence” and “hypocrisy” — and warned democratic world leaders against turning a blind eye to Russia’s quest to squelch democracy. He shared his thoughts in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday evening.
In his piece entitled, “The U.S.S.R. Fell — and the World Fell Asleep,” the Russian chess grandmaster and political activist spoke of his optimism in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. Believing “the ideals of freedom and democracy” finally seemed within his people’s grasp, Kasparov looked forward to the new dawn of a bright future.
“The architects of the Cold War understood there could be no lasting peace unless the Soviet Union was contained and opposed at every turn.”
But now, 25 years later, no such optimism remains for Kasparov as the Russian people live under the iron fist of President Vladimir Putin — all while the world exhibits a short memory and turns its back.
“It is difficult to describe what life in the U.S.S.R. was like to people in the free world today,” Kasparov wrote. “The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.”
After the Berlin Wall fell and the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the free world cheered and the U.S. enjoyed “unrivaled global power and influence,” Kasparov noted, following on the heels of the precedents set under President Ronald Reagan’s firm leadership. The free world had a great responsibility in overseeing the end of the Cold War and ensuring no such darkness would ever shroud the future again.
“Yet instead of using it to shape a new global framework to protect and project the values of democracy and human rights … the free world acted as though the fight had been won once and for all,” Kasparov wrote. “We were so eager to embrace the bright future that we failed to address our dark past.”
After Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, took office in 1991, it did not take long for corruption to take root. When Putin ascended to power in 2000, “he found few obstacles capable of resisting his instinct to remake Russia in his own KGB image,” Kasparov noted.
“The reforms in Russia enacted by a dream team of national and foreign economists were piecemeal and easily exploited by those with access to the levers of power,” Kasparov wrote. “Instead of turning into a free market, the Russian economy became a rigged auction that created an elite of appointed billionaires and a population of resentful and confused citizens who wondered why nothing had improved for them.”
With Putin still at Russia’s helm and the United States anticipating the inauguration of Donald J. Trump in January, the time is ripe for the U.S. to rebuild its global reputation and undo the years of damage its foreign policy’s reputation has suffered as Russia’s influence has grown — but only if the nation will learn history’s lessons.
“Even today, members of the Western democratic establishment praise Mr. Putin as a ‘strong leader’ — as he enters his 17th year of total power in an imploding Russia that millions have fled,” Kasparov bemoaned. “The bedrock belief of the Cold War, that the U.S. and the rest of the free world would be safer and stronger by promoting human rights and democracy, has been abandoned in the West in favor of engagement and moral equivalence.”
Dr. Robert Kaufman, a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America,” believes Kasparov’s diagnosis, as well as his remedy, are correct.
“And I think his remedy overall — greater vigilance rather than succumbing to the temptation to collaborate with Putin — that’s also right. He’s telling us what we don’t want to hear but we need to know,” Kaufman told LifeZette. “Putin’s not ambiguous. Kasparov is right. Insanity is doing the same thing again.”
Kasparov’s plea to the U.S. and the free world is to reject its short memory and stand firm against the reality of Putin’s Russia.
As the Trump administration completes its transition and takes the reins from President Obama, Kaufman urges the president-elect to stand firm, adhere to dearly held American ideals, and see Putin and Russia for who they really are — rather than cozy up to Putin and engage in dangerous “flirtation.”
“The good thing is that if [Trump’s] really committed to building up the military — that’s the single most important thing we could do to restore our credibility that Obama eviscerated,” Kaufman said, adding the U.S. and its allies in the free world must deal with Putin as an “adversary — not as a potential partner.”
“We will welcome a change in Putin, but he’s going to have to demonstrate with deeds rather than talk,” Kaufman said. “And if Kasparov’s piece does nothing else other than to alert us to that fact, in terms of a disposition rather than specific policy … if he does nothing more than that, he has infused us with a massive dose of moral and strategic clarity — the steroids version.”
Ultimately, Kasparov’s plea to the U.S. and the free world is to reject its short memory and stand firm against the reality of Putin’s Russia.
“Cold War enmity led to a great deal of mythologizing, but there was also sincere concern for the hundreds of millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain. Westerners often asked how they could help, something that is rarely heard in today’s environment of appeasement and isolationism,” Kasparov wrote. He warned against a time “when dictatorship is not seen as a discrete problem — when in fact it is the dominant crisis that enables so many others, including war, terror and refugees.”
“The architects of the Cold War understood that there could be no lasting peace unless the Soviet Union was contained and opposed at every turn. That lesson has been forgotten, along with so many others.”