Kasparov says that he was “dead wrong” to support Yeltsin for reëlection to the Russian Presidency in 1996, even though it was a fairly open secret that Yeltsin, who had started a cruel and senseless war in Chechnya, was too addled to rule effectively. Rather than risk allowing Yeltsin’s opponent, the Communist Gennady Zyuganov, to come to power, Kasparov was one of those who chose to ignore the fact that Yeltsin, supported by oligarchs hoping to maintain their status, returned to power in a crooked ballot.
Kasparov is hardly a conventional politician. His appeal is the stubborn purity, almost naïveté, of his politics, the prestige of his former position as chess champion, and the public sense that he is an idealist. Even the leaders of the anti-Putin intelligentsia who argue with Kasparov recognize that he could easily have lived a comfortable life in Moscow or joined the flow of rich migrants to South Kensington, the Seventh Arrondissement, or the Upper East Side.
“The understanding of what an opposition is has been compromised in recent years—it’s a term used ironically or skeptically or dismissed entirely,” said Arseny Roginsky, the chairman of Memorial, a group devoted to human rights and historical memory. “This is the era of exposés and scandals, and everyone is seen to be crawling back to the Kremlin, for funding or whatever. This is the era of complete distrust. And so everyone’s opposition credentials are disdained or dismissed. Except for Garry. He is unique, really. No one doubts that he is in opposition to the Kremlin. He might be a good politician or a bad politician, but no one doubts his sincerity. In Russia today, you need to believe that an opposition exists—the image of an opposition, even. Kasparov is honest. As a little boy, part Jewish, part Caucasian, he had huge responsibilities. Now he plays a different game. And this earns him respect. It’s also important that he is so famous. He belongs to the world.”
“I don’t completely understand Garry, but he has huge reserves of energy and talent,” Ludmila Alexeeva, a sixties-era dissident and a leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a predominant human-rights organization, said. “Russia, historically, has had its share of idealists. And I would say that Garry is in that tradition.”
Kasparov’s demeanor hardly resembles Sakharov’s saintly carriage. After losing a match, he could be dismissive of autograph-seekers, rude to waiters, self-centered in the extreme; sometimes he would humiliate the grand masters who helped to train him, pouncing on a piece of dubious advice and showing them, move by move, just how feebleminded their suggestion was. Like anyone who has been the focus of admiration since kindergarten, Kasparov is ego-driven; people wait on him; friends, family, and wives (there have been three) know that his needs come first. And yet, for the most part, he is as generous as he is intelligent. Despite the single-minded attention he has given to an abstruse game of sixty-four squares, he is interested in everything from sports (soccer, especially) to literature (his favorite novel is Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” a celebrated example of allegory in the Soviet era).
Kasparov was born in 1963 in Baku. His father, Kim Weinstein, was Jewish, and his mother, Klara Kasparova, Armenian. When Garry was around six, he picked up an endgame puzzle in the newspaper and solved it, even though he didn’t yet know the rules of chess. “Since Garry knows how the game ends,” his father said, “we ought to teach him how it begins.”
The next year, Kim Weinstein died, of cancer. Garry started to play chess obsessively. In those days, chess was a Soviet obsession and the regime sponsored an elaborate network of chess academies; Garry started to train at one run by the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. At the age of twelve, Garry was attracting national attention in chess, and he took his mother’s family name. “When I began to have public success at chess, it seemed natural,” he said. “My teacher, Botvinnik, himself of Jewish ancestry, added that it wouldn’t hurt my chances of success in the U.S.S.R. not to be named Weinstein.” The next year, he played his first tournament abroad, and by eighteen he was the Soviet champion, surrounded by admirers and under endless pressure to perform.
“The loss of my childhood was the price for becoming the youngest world champion in history,” Kasparov once said. “When you have to fight every day from a young age, your soul can be contaminated. I lost my childhood. I never really had it. Today I have to be careful not to become cruel, because I became a soldier too early.”
From the start, Kasparov’s sights were set on a single enemy—Anatoly Karpov. For more than a decade, their confrontations were the story of chess. Like heavyweight championship bouts, matches for the world chess championship have a way of taking on political meaning. Bobby Fischer’s psychodramatic match with Boris Spassky in Iceland, thirty-five years ago, was a Cold War epic (of a particularly neurotic type). In the popular press, it was not enough to say that Spassky failed to contend with Fischer’s brilliant and unpredictable openings; more comprehensibly, it was a triumph of American ingenuity over a sclerotic Soviet bureaucracy.
In 1984, when Kasparov made his first bid for the world title, the political drama was purely Soviet. The regime was in its last year before perestroika. Konstantin Chernenko, a career apparatchik, directed the imperium from his sickroom. His senescence was a symbol of the regime. The market stalls and store shelves were bare. The technological age had arrived—but not in the Soviet Union. Karpov, the world champion, was an exemplar of the Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko “era of stagnation,” an obedient member of the nomenklatura. As a player, he was a defensive artist, whose style, like Kutuzov’s in war, was to absorb and smother attacks and then destroy his confounded opponent. Like Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, he was a living symbol of official Soviet achievement.
Kasparov represented a new generation. At twenty-one, he was ironic, full of barely disguised disdain for the regime. He was a member of the Communist Party until 1990—his chess ambitions required it—but no one saw him as subservient. Rather, he was cast, in his challenge to Karpov, as a champion of the young and of the outsiders. His chess style was swift, imaginative, daring—sometimes to the point of recklessness. Karpov painted academic still-lifes; Kasparov was an Abstract Expressionist. He prepared thoroughly, but at some point, he once said, he played by instinct, “by smell, by feel.”
This first Karpov-Kasparov championship match, which began in September, 1984, coincided with my first trip to Moscow, and I attended several games at the Hall of Columns, the stately venue where Stalin had lain in state, thirty-one years earlier. Every morning, the two men entered from the wings and walked to a chess board at center stage. They sat hunched over the pieces for hours at a time, inches from each other, breathing the same overheated air, Karpov staring at his position, Kasparov staring at Karpov, or, at times, clawing at his hair, rolling his eyes, expressing his emotions with the eye-bulging theatricality of a silent-film star. In the balcony, nearly everyone was pro-Kasparov. They loved his anti-establishment glamour, his audacity at the board even when he lost.
Karpov dominated Kasparov in the early games, taking a four-games-to-none lead. He needed only two more wins to retain the title. The crowds began to thin out. Then Kasparov did something astonishing: in the course of a championship match, he learned to play at a new level. In Game 15, a turning point in the match, Karpov was up a pawn but could play only to a draw after an astonishingly long game—ninety-three moves. Kasparov was figuring out Karpov the way an astute hitter, after repeated, chastening strikeouts, figures out a pitcher. The next eleven games were draws. In Game 27, Karpov won once more, but, again, Kasparov kept forestalling the end—twenty more drawn games came and went, brutal and wearing—and then, suddenly, he took Games 47 and 48. It was now February. The score was five games to three, but the advantage had turned. Finally, the tournament authorities called it off, claiming that both players were exhausted. Kasparov was convinced that the chess establishment, backed by the Soviet authorities, had rescued Karpov. He was furious, but he had learned his opponent thoroughly. He had mastered him. The next year, again in Moscow, Kasparov won the title.
Between 1984 and 1990, the two men played five championship matches, and Kasparov had the edge, with twenty-one wins, nineteen losses, and a hundred and four draws. Like Frazier and Ali, the two openly despised each other, but through the ferocity of their battles and the differences in their styles they brought out the best in each other. Kasparov suffered through these battles. In defeat, he was capable of fugue states that lasted for days. And yet the crazy depth of commitment and passion, as well as the daring of his style, made him feel alive. “Chess for Garry was never a game,” Fred Waitzkin, his friend and biographer, said. “It was about living and dying, about redefining the art every time he played.”
Although Kasparov finally lost the title, to Vladimir Kramnik, in 2000, he remained the most highly rated player for another five years. “To be a world champion in chess, the amount of what you have to know, what you have to fit in your brain and master, is so big that it is incomprehensible to a normal person,” Waitzkin said. “You have to know more than a nuclear physicist or a brain surgeon knows. You have to know more stuff than virtually anyone on earth. Then you have to have the facility of mind to process it and then forget it so that you are free to improvise and be imaginative.”
In the popular imagination, if not among chess aficionados, Kasparov’s one lingering rival was a retired lunatic—Bobby Fischer. Whenever I visited chess clubs in Moscow, players would ask about Fischer. Both of his parents, according to most sources, were Jewish, but since the early nineteen-sixties Fischer has been a vocal anti-Semite. After Fischer defeated Spassky for the championship, in 1972, his behavior grew more erratic. He lived in Tokyo and Belgrade, and finally moved to Iceland. When a Filipino radio station reached Fischer just after the September 11th attacks, he rejoiced. “I want the U.S. wiped out,” he said. “I’m hoping for a ‘Seven Days in May’ scenario, where the country will be taken over by the military, they’ll close down all the synagogues, arrest all the Jews, execute hundreds of thousands of Jewish ringleaders.” Fischer also accused Russian players, including Kasparov, of taking part in fixed games.
Kasparov is always careful to give Fischer his due as a player (“probably he was second to me”) and avoid the rest. But when Fischer played Spassky again, in 1992, Kasparov could not resist telling New in Chess that Fischer was “like [Bjorn] Borg playing tennis with a wooden racket. . . . Now he’s someone from the past. He doesn’t belong to our world. He’s an alien.”
Kasparov maintained his sanity and charm as champion, but, as he entered his forties, he lost patience with the game. The bureaucracies of world chess are so arcane that Kasparov, despite having the highest rating in the world, despite heavily publicized matches against computers, could not seem to get a rematch with Kramnik. He was sure that he was still the best player in the world, but he could not prove it.
“When I lost to Kramnik in 2000, it wasn’t easy to contemplate coming back,” he said. “I spent two years trying to recover my position, studying, playing. . . . I never lost my desire, but I really need to be at a cutting edge. I played the computer. I was looking around.”
Kasparov was having a hard time keeping his concentration. He had tried to add to his considerable fortune with various business schemes—the export of Russian sculptures, an attempt to buy GUM, the huge shopping complex across Red Square from the Kremlin—all of which failed. “I was a bad businessman,” Kasparov told me. “I’m a big-picture guy; I don’t like to stick around for the details.” By 2004, Kasparov was losing interest even in chess. “It was a year of unravelling,” he said. He had already been through one divorce, and now he was in the midst of a second.
“I didn’t want to leave the chess world on a down note,” he said. “But I wanted my son to see me onstage, just once, winning. The Russian championships were in Moscow in 2004, and my son turned eight. So I took him to the Rossiya Hotel and I won and he got to see the closing ceremonies and wore the medal around his neck.”
In early 2005, Kasparov planned to play one last tournament, in Linares, a chess center in southern Spain. He told only his mother and his third wife-to-be, Daria Tarasova, a business-school graduate from St. Petersburg, about his intention to quit. After clinching first place in the round-robin tournament, Kasparov lost his final game, to Veselin Topalov. There is a clip on YouTube of the closing half hour of that last session. Kasparov suffers more flamboyantly than Sarah Bernhardt. He mops his face with a handkerchief. He looks mournfully at the lights. When he resigns, you worry that he might do himself in. “I finally felt, I just don’t want to do this anymore,” he told me. “It was very strange. I’ve changed my routine and my focus but I haven’t lost my fighting spirit.”
Not long ago, Kasparov gave a speech at the Four Seasons restaurant to members and guests of the Hudson Institute, a neoconservative think tank. Among the guests were the broadcaster and former Nixon aide Monica Crowley and the ur-neocon Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, who had just signed on as a foreign-policy adviser to Rudolph Giuliani.
Kasparov gave a version of the same speech that he had lately given in Washington and Toronto. There were a few notes of reassurance—“Putin’s regime is not a geopolitical monster”—but there was no shortage of stark warning. “The Cold War was based on ideas, like them or not,” Kasparov said. “Putin’s only idea can be concentrated into the motto ‘Let’s steal together.’ ”
When one of the guests asked what could be done to help the Russian opposition, Kasparov was careful not to inspire any old Cold War fantasies, saying, “We are not looking for support from the outside. What we want from the leaders of the free world is for them to say to Mr. Putin, ‘You cannot act like Lukashenko’ ”—the erratic President of Belarus—“ ‘or Mugabe or Hugo Chávez and still be treated as a democratic leader.’ ”
Kasparov speaks frequently to two sorts of audiences in the West: business groups, which seem to see him as another variety of an American crop—the executive coach—and conservative political groups. He is John Naisbitt with a queen’s-gambit twist. His conceit is that success in the boardroom requires the same sort of planning, strategy, and discipline as success on the chessboard. This is the sort of can-do hokum he pitches in a new book called “How Life Imitates Chess.” Kasparov is also popular among the American right. In 1991, he won the Keeper of the Flame Award from the Center for Security Policy, another neocon think tank. The award, which is given to “individuals for devoting their public careers to the defense of the United States and American values around the world,” has also gone to Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld.
Such an award does Kasparov no good at home. There is a centuries-long tradition in Russia of xenophobia. In the Soviet era, Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, and hundreds of others were accused in the pages of Pravda of working for the C.I.A., M.I.6, or the Mossad. Vladimir Kryuchkov, who was the head of the K.G.B. under Gorbachev and directed the August, 1991, coup, was constantly trying to convince Gorbachev that his most liberal adviser, Alexander Yakovlev, was acting as a covert “agent of imperialist intelligence agencies.” And so while Kasparov’s business-class ease abroad might be appealing to Americans, it makes him an easy target for Russians who have grown weary of what they sense to be the cultural and political arrogance of the West.
Putin has deftly exploited Russians’ traditional suspicion of the outsider. Boris Dubin, of the Levada Center, the country’s most independent and reliable public-opinion institute, said that in 1994 forty-one per cent of the population believed that Russia was surrounded by enemies; by 2003 the number was seventy-seven per cent. Putin is widely applauded when he lashes out at his neighbors—cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine, waging a kind of cold war with Georgia. In 2000, just before becoming President, Putin told a gathering of the F.S.B., “A few years ago, we succumbed to the illusion that we don’t have enemies and we have paid dearly for that.” Putin and his team have made it plain that Russia would not tolerate the sort of uprisings that have taken place in Ukraine and Georgia, and they have blamed those events on support from foreign groups like the National Endowment for Democracy.
Behind this newfound sense of confidence is also a shift in ideology. In the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras, the “gray cardinal” of ideological correctness was a severe, ascetic figure named Mikhail Suslov. Suslov spoke in the cadences of “State and Revolution.” Putin’s strategist, a smooth former business executive in his early forties named Vladislav Surkov, is interested solely in the power and independence of the Russian state, and relies on Russian nationalist philosophers like Yevgeny Trubetskoy and Ivan Ilyin. In 2005, Surkov gave a secret speech to a business group called “How Russia Should Fight International Conspiracies,” in which he proposed an ideology of “sovereign democracy.” The term was meant to insist that democracy comes in many forms, and that “Russian democracy” will develop in its own way and at its own pace. Russia, Surkov says in his speeches, must see through Western hypocrisy: “They tell us about democracy while all the time they are thinking about our hydrocarbons.”
Each morning at the Other Russia’s July conference at the Holiday Inn, the delegates were greeted by one of Surkov’s creations. Members of a pro-Putin youth group, Molodaya Gvardia—the Young Guard, a name reminiscent of Soviet times—staged demonstrations mocking Kasparov and his comrades. The Young Guard is the youth branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, two years ago, Putin’s Kremlin, led by Surkov, orchestrated the creation of a series of youth organizations modelled on the Soviet-era Komsomol. The largest of them, with ten thousand active members and capable of delivering a hundred thousand to its events, is called Nashi, or Ours. Nashi, like the Komsomol, organizes volunteer work and urges young people to quit smoking and drinking. But it also has a core of activists whose specialty is to harass the opposition. One of the questions on Nashi’s entrance exam for its summer camp was to describe Garry Kasparov. The “correct” answer was that he is an American citizen who has taken an oath of loyalty to undermine Russia in the name of the State Department. “Nashi was created, first and foremost, for disturbing our activities,” Kasparov said.
The demonstration in front of the Holiday Inn was made up of no more than fifty people, who wore red T-shirts and baseball caps and chanted, “Kasparov, Iyuda!” (“Kasparov is Judas!”). They threw fake American currency—thirty-dollar bills—and shouted slogans about “political prostitutes.” A small brass band played ironical funeral tunes.
At the Other Russia’s major rallies earlier this year, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the kids from Nashi and the Young Guard were joined by thousands of anti-terrorism and anti-riot troops. Hours after the rally in Moscow, television news covered the event only as a way to imply that it had been bankrolled by the U.S. State Department. That night, state television broadcast a French documentary, “Revolution.com,” which seeks to portray the influence of American nongovernmental organizations in planning and financing the revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Serbia. The Russian audience did not know (until the story came out in the daily newspaper Kommersant) that six of the film’s original fifty-four minutes had been cut; television officials had excised any criticism of Putin and the description of Nashi as a “secret anti-revolutionary ministry.” Kasparov has all but disappeared from state television. “And when I do appear,” he said, “they try to make a fool of me. Usually, they make sure to show me speaking English. That way, I seem like an alien, a tool of the foreigners.”
The first session of the Other Russia conference was a routine recitation of reports about the state of Russia and the state of the Other Russia. The second day’s gathering was held in a much larger hall and, along with delegates from many provincial cities, there also seemed to be several young men brazenly filming the audience, as if to accumulate a dossier. Alexei Kondaurov, a former general in the F.S.B. and now a member of the Duma, said, “I look around at this audience and I think there are people, um, observing us. Unofficially. After all, it’s my job to know this.”
It was a diverse conference, with environmentalists, liberals, human-rights activists, and, most of all, neo-Bolsheviks. In the parlance of today’s Russia, a liberal (like Kasparov) tends to emphasize legal rights, democratic procedure, a transparent market economy, and civil society. The neo-Bolsheviks, whose principal leader is the novelist and opposition figure Eduard Limonov, emphasize social rights and guarantees: pensions, salaries, eliminating the gap between the wealthy and the poor. The leftists outnumbered the liberal democrats, who were discredited by the failures of the nineties. “If there were free and fair elections, we would have our own version of Hamas being elected in Palestine,” Ilya Ponomaryov, a left-wing economist and a member of the opposition, said. “I think that what we would get in really open elections is either left-wing forces or nationalists.”
Kasparov has chosen to join forces with the leftists—even leftists like Limonov, who, in the past, has made common cause with neo-Fascists and anti-Semites—in the name of creating genuine elections and democratic procedures. “It was Garry Kasparov who introduced the notion of a consensus and a united front, even though our ideological differences are very serious,” Andrei Dmitriyev, a National Bolshevik Party leader from St. Petersburg, said.
Limonov is, at best, a problematic partner for Kasparov. In the seventies, he immigrated to the United States and modelled himself on Charles Bukowski—as dissolute in his prose as in his daily life. In his autobiographical novel, “It’s Me, Eddie,” contempt and self-pity are the prevailing emotions. He describes himself bumming off the American welfare system, taking women up to his residential hotel, disdaining his new countrymen (“because you lead dull lives, sell yourselves into the slavery of work, because of your vulgar plaid pants”), and drinking. Solzhenitsyn called him “a little insect who writes pornography.” In middle age, Limonov refashioned himself as a man of action and went to Bosnia, where he befriended the accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Returning to Russia in 1994, he founded the National Bolshevik Party. It was hard to know how seriously to take him. He recommended the Gulag for Russian liberals. He bought guns. He started an N.B.P. newspaper called Limonka, a pun on his name and the slang for “hand grenade.” Finally, in 2001, he was arrested for buying arms illegally and was imprisoned for more than two years. Limonov has softened his rhetoric since his release and, in Kasparov’s presence, he presents himself as a benign social democrat.
When we spoke during one of the breaks, Limonov told me, “This is a natural alliance to me. Look at the anti-Pinochet coalition or the situation in Russia before the Revolution. There was a range from the Bolsheviks to the bourgeois parties. So in exceptional situations it is natural for many different political forces to get together.”
Kasparov thinks that the liberals who keep their distance from Limonov are repeating a mistake of the early nineties. “You have to work with the people who live here,” he said. “We’re not trying to win elections yet. It’s all about having elections, real elections.”
One speaker after another came to the dais to offer a diagnosis of the Kremlin and its abuses. The Army was in ruins. The F.S.B. was omnipotent. The elections were a fraud. The economy was described alternately as a “kleptocracy,” “a gigantic laundering operation,” “a cartel,” “a brigade,” and “Saudi Arabia without Islam.”
Vladimir Bukovsky, a former political prisoner, gave a calm, stirring speech denouncing Putin’s “new Chekist regime.” Once again, he said, elections in Russia were a fraudulent formality, individual freedoms had been eliminated, and “a small Caucasian nation”—Chechnya—had been destroyed. “There are no citizens, there are subjects.” Bukovsky reminded everyone that it was important to unite in opposition to the Kremlin. When he was in a Soviet prison, he said, “we didn’t believe in a left opposition or a right opposition. We didn’t think about people’s beliefs. We all ate from the same bowl.”
The speech underscored the plight of opposition politics in Russia today: Bukovsky was not in the hall. Although he was one of several who had been proposed to run against Putin for the Presidency, he has lived in Cambridge, England, since his release from the camps, in 1976. His speech had been videotaped in his English garden.
The other potential candidates for President had their own problems. Viktor Gerashchenko, the former head of the state banking system, had extensive experience in the domestic economy, but he was an apparatchik. Mikhail Kasyanov, the former Prime Minister, is younger and less dour than Gerashchenko, but he acquired the nickname Misha Two Per Cent, for the alleged “tax” he levied on all deals crossing his desk when he worked in the finance ministry.
If one speaker had moral authority, it was Sergei Kovalyov, a biologist and former political prisoner. Now in his late seventies, Kovalyov wearily stepped to the microphone and informed the delegates that victory in the coming elections was impossible “without the approval of the Kremlin.”
“So what do we do?” he said. “A critical mass has to be built. Not too many people understand that democracy is dull, scrupulous work. . . . If there is no chance at all to win the elections, then the danger of participating in the elections is that it becomes a trap, a trick for government propaganda. . . . But what a real candidate can do is speak the truth about the regime to a maximum number of people.”
The trouble with Gerashchenko or Kasyanov, he said, is that they are “former nomenklatura” and they will have to spend the campaign answering for past sins. Bukovsky was “a gifted politician beloved by the dissidents of my generation,” Kovalyov said, but then added, with uncharacteristic sarcasm, “A candidate for President has to actually live in the country that he proposes to lead.”
At the end of the session, Kasparov invited questions from the floor. One woman, saying that she was a reporter for a business paper that no one seemed to recognize, suddenly started ranting at Kasparov, threw a cloud of thirty-dollar bills at him, and declared him an American agent. She was one of the demonstrators from the Young Guard. Kasparov was unflustered. “You know, I was getting disappointed,” he said, by way of adjourning. “I thought they had forgotten about us completely.”
Afterward, Kasparov, Limonov, and Andrei Illarionov, the most prominent of the liberal economists who once worked under Putin, left the hotel and drove to the downtown studios of the radio station Echo of Moscow. Kasparov and Limonov appeared first on a popular talk show hosted by the journalist and professor Yevgenia Albats. It had been a day of long speeches and internecine squabbles, and the overwhelming feeling was that opposition in Putin’s Russia was, if not entirely futile, then close to it. A supportive caller from the provincial city of Orenburg brought a smile to Kasparov’s face, but he was prepared to claim only small victories.
“We began as an absolutely hopeless movement,” he said. “Now we’re in the game.”
Even that was bold.
In the hallway, Illarionov told me that it would be a disaster to take part in the March elections. The opposition would be crushed and coöpted. “Garry has invested his energies and his day-to-day life in this, and I respect him very much,” he said. “But this is a mistake and will lead millions of people into a dead end.” His fear ran deeper than mere defeat. As a tsar, he said, “Putin reacts traditionally. And, if they have no real enemies, they create them. They need enemies. They cannot live without enemies. If all enemies are destroyed, then there is Yabloko, the Republican Party, the Right Forces, the Other Russia—they’ll finish these enemies. It’s a natural law of dictatorship.” The best that Kasparov could do, in the short term, was to establish the idea of an opposition in the narrow margins provided by the state.
As the summer wore on, however, it became clear even to Kasparov that the Other Russia could only put forward a “parallel” candidate, a symbolic one. At first, Kasparov was reluctant to be that candidate, but when he proceeded to win many of the Other Russia’s regional primaries in August and September he began to change his mind. “It seems I have no choice,” he said.
“The problem is, we are short of resources and we have too little time to create powerful momentum to overthrow the regime,” Kasparov went on. “But we do want to show that this regime is violating our basic constitutional rights. We want to use the campaign to publicize our ideas and tell the public that we are here. What we’re saying is, we won’t win now, but, when this regime collapses, be aware that we are here.”
One summer evening, I took the metro to my old stop, Oktybrskaya, where the familiar bronze statue of Lenin, pointing to the remote “shining future,” still stood. As I walked along the boulevard called Bolshaya Polyanka, I could see the House on the Embankment, a vast gray Constructivist pile that had accommodated much of the Communist Party’s political and cultural élite in Stalin’s day. During the purge of 1937, a third of the building’s residents were arrested and dispatched either to the Gulag or to the cemetery with a shot in the back of the head. A gigantic Mercedes emblem now rotates alluringly on the roof of the House on the Embankment.
After a while, I arrived at the October Chess Club, the most popular club in the city. Situated in a long basement room, the club was filling up with men and women of all ages taking their places at scruffy boards. International grand masters occasionally come for a game, but the players were the regulars, the enthusiasts. They were, in some cases, a peculiar lot. Alexander Pachulia, a plump and friendly teacher who is the deputy director of the club, told me, “Usually, chess people are not very attached to their regular careers. They are almost uninterested in anything other than chess. If we didn’t close up at ten, people would play until ten in the morning and die of hunger right in their chair.” The club is open year-round except for New Year’s Day and the Orthodox Christmas and Easter.
After the collapse of the Soviet system—and, with it, the subsidized Soviet chess system—many players pursued their careers abroad. As players from the former Soviet Union started showing up at tournaments under new flags, he said, “there was a feeling of loss.” Like several other denizens of the club, Pachulia acknowledged Kasparov’s genius as a player but was cool to him as a person and as a politician. “I rooted for Kasparov against Karpov in the eighties because of Kasparov’s anti-Communism and Karpov stood for Soviet power,” Pachulia went on. “But now we live in a different world. We need to be more assertive in the world. If NATO includes Ukraine and Georgia and other states on our border developing so-called democracy, that tells us that you”—the United States—“are putting arms on our borders. Democracy! Nonsense!”
Pachulia, like the majority of Russians, would prefer to see Putin remain President for at least another four years. To elect anyone else, he said, even one of Putin’s handpicked protégés, would be a risk that the country could ill afford. “Russia is gigantic and needs a strong hand,” he said. Kasparov’s politics and language were too foreign, and it made the players at the club dubious not only about his capacities as a politician but even about his loyalty to the Russian state. “The West needs someone to run Russia for them, someone to order around as their instrument, and they want to do that with Garry Kasparov,” Pachulia said. “The West is worried about the strength of Vladimir Putin.”