Chess champion Garry Kasparov reacts to Litvinenko verdict during Prague trip

Garry Kasparov, photo: CTK

“Better late than never” – that was the reaction of former chess master and Russian political activist Garry Kasparov to the verdict of a UK inquiry Thursday on the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy poisoned in 2006 via a lethal dose of polonium-210 placed in his tea. According to British authorities, the murder was carried out by the Russian FSB security services, probably on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

Garry Kasparov,  photo: CTK
Garry Kasparov remains a rare example of a prominent Russian figure expressing opposition to the regime of Vladimir Putin. Radio Prague caught up with the chess master, politician and now self- exiled political activist, during a trip to Prague, and asked him for his take on the 300 page report by retired High Court judge Robert Owen:

“We say better late than never. It took 10 years for the British government and British justice to release the results of their investigation, which I think was actually completed much earlier. And it took three consecutive governments to decide before they could go public with it.”

But Kasparov, who now works for the US-based Human Rights Foundation, said that he fully understood why the report was delayed:

Alexander Litvinenko in 2002,  photo: CTK
“We’re talking about a case of nuclear terrorism sanctioned by the Russian authorities, and most likely by Putin himself. No-one has any doubt that under Putin Russia would ever extradite Andrey Lugovoy, the man who committed this crime (former FSB officer in London at the time Litvinenko fell ill), and who is now one of the top members of Russia’s ‘puppet parliament’. And the British government had to contemplate their next steps after their demands for the extradition (of the suspects) were turned down by Putin…I think the British authorities reached a point where the public damage to their reputation among the public became far more serious than the potential loss of business and other ties with Russia. Because pretending that you could just ignore crimes committed by Putin’s cronies – most likely acting on Putin’s direct orders – was no longer possible.”

Evoking the memory of World War II, Kasparov also said that a democratic country like Czechoslovakia is fully aware of the risks of not standing up to the erosion of democracy. He also spoke about whether he feels his life is threatened as a critic of the Russian leader:

“Look, anybody who criticizes Putin is at risk. That is why I left Russia three years ago…I just have to make sure I am not drinking tea with strangers!”

Kasparov said Vladimir Putin has been able to consolidate his leadership by spreading, in his view, oil and gas money between different groups and creating a sense of prosperity for the Russian middle class. But he believes tough economic times now are making Putin’s future a little less certain:

Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
“If he runs out of money, the whole system will be jeopardized. That doesn’t necessarily mean people will go out on the streets and there will be a revolution…It’s not just about (low) oil and gas prices. It is the whole structure of the Russian economy, which has not been reformed under Putin. We had 16 years that were thrown away, and instead of investing in the infrastructure of my country and building a new and prosperous Russia, we are seeing more and more of Putin’s buddies being added to the Forbes list of billionaires.”