Activist Argues Western Inaction Led to Putin’s Rise in Power

Former world chess champion and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin Garry K. Kasparov discussed his new book, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, at Emerson Hall Monday evening.

To a packed lecture hall that was standing-room only, Kasparov said that when the Soviet Union collapsed, few would have predicted what he characterized as the dictatorial state of Russia today. To international disapproval and censure, Putin annexed the internationally recognized Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March 2014.

“In 1991, the future was rosy… no one could imagine a K.G.B lieutenant-colonel could be leader of Russia,” Kasparov said.

A Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation based in New York, Kasparov argued that inaction and appeasement on the part of Western countries, including the U.S., led to Putin’s rise in power.

“Clinton did too little, Bush did too much, Obama did nothing,” Kasparov said. “There’s a huge territory between war and peace, and it’s called leadership. It’s not like chess, black and white.”

Kasparov, who himself said that his “book is bound to be controversial,” added that while the price of confronting Putin would be high, he predicted that further inaction by Western powers would worsen the situation.

“Tomorrow, the price goes up,” he said. “It’s in our power to make sure that this coming winter won’t be too long, and we’ll see spring before it’s too late.”

As the talk concluded and a line formed for autographs, one man rushed the stage and confronted Kasparov. The man, clearly agitated, said that critics like Kasparov “incited hate.” Following the encounter and threats of his removal, the man left.

Vladislav Sevostianov ’19, originally from St. Petersburg, praised Kasparov’s ideas but said the Putin critic did not detail or outline a solution.

“[Kasparov] did what he set out to do, predicted what is to come, but [he] did not touch on the real issue of what to do,” Sevostianov said. “It is easy to criticize.”

The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and student group Harvard Effective Altruism co-sponsored the talk.

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