Ron Rosenbaum's Smithsonian article What is Garry Kasparov's Next Move? discusses Kasparov's perspectives on international politics, Magnus Carlsen's victory in the World Chess Championship and the way that powerful chess engines have permanently changed tournament chess. Kasparov's take on Vladimir Putin is particularly interesting:
Kasparov’s animus toward Putin led me to ask the philosophical question "Do you believe in evil?"
"Everyone has an evil component within," he tells me. "It's matter of circumstance whether it emerges. Whether he becomes 'the right man in the right place at the right time' for evil to emerge. Stalin had it, all the components in place."
"How would you assess Putin?" I ask.
"Evil," Kasparov replies. "Pure evil."
"Evil from the beginning?" I ask.
"Yeah, it’s just the..." he pauses, trying to find a way to describe it, "evil from the very beginning, but eventually he was brought into power and eventually he discovered himself...." Again he pauses and then comes out with it. "He discovered himself in the center of this universe with unlimited powers with enormous luck!"
There's something Faustian to this characterization, this vision of Grandmaster Putin suddenly finding himself like Milton's Satan, realizing it's better to "reign in hell, than serve in heaven." He's found himself in a universe he can reign over with godlike abandon. No one in the world, not any of the leaders of the other countries, has
powers so unlimited. Few in history have had it--and fewer still have been able to keep it.
But Kasparov will not grant Putin grandmaster strategist status.
"He got lucky from other factors: high price of oil, 9/11 attack, general weakness of the West, complacency, muddy waters in the global politics, apathy of Russian people--the combination [of all that]." And Kasparov also feels there are limits to the effects of Putin’s evil. "It's unimaginable to think he could cause as much damage as Hitler.
It's [different], 21st century from the 20th century. I always say that Hitler used tanks, Putin's using banks. But the damage Putin has caused to the integrity of Western financial, political system has yet to be
Returning to Ukraine and Putin’s Gambit, "This is an amazing moment in history, wouldn’t you say?" I ask him.
"Yes," he replies, "I think this [is] an amazing time. The collapse of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the big change. But it was a mistake to think the end of the cold war was the end of history."
Kasparov's reference is to the title of a once-fashionable geopolitical book, The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992 by Francis Fukuyama, and to its thesis that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the world was on an uninterruptable path to global liberal democracy.
Kasparov believes that both Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr. missed golden opportunities in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kasparov has strong opinions about the policies that the United States should have implemented at that time:
"First of all, you don’t say 'That’s the end of the game.' Because the game is endless. It's the human race. Nobody had a plan that could go for four years, six years, ten years. That was an opportunity to make plans like the Truman administration did in late-1940s."
"And now?" I ask.
"Everybody's complaining that today things are so difficult, the Obama administration is facing [so many] enemies, it's difficult to confront China and radical Islam and Putin is...someone told me that Vladimir Putin is more dangerous than Joseph Stalin in 1948. Are you serious? That insults my sense of history. It's just politicians trying
to cover up a lack of ideas, inability to strategize, and unwillingness to break a status quo, desperate attempts to cling to the power by [emphasizing] the magnitude of the global challenges."
Kasparov supports making chess an integral part of the school environment:
Kasparov is already thinking several moves ahead: beyond just reforming the insular, scandal-plagued world of 64 squares to make chess a vehicle for worldwide intelligence enhancement. "Everybody talks about the shortcomings of education. And I have plenty of experience traveling around the world and talking to education authorities, from
the very top to the very bottom of the social ladder."
"We have plenty of evidence that at early age chess helps kids to learn about legal frameworks, to understand logic and patterns, to see the big picture, to structure minds. We need to start reforming education, and chess is a very useful tool."
Kasparov has a very measured answer to the question of whether prime Kasparov could beat prime Carlsen: "I always resist the question of comparing people. We live at different times, so Garry Kasparov in ’85 was once the champion, but my knowledge of chess was way, way less. It was 25 years ago."