Garry Kasparov, Russian chess grandmaster, whose match with the IBM Supercomputer “Deep Blue” 20 years ago marked the first defeat of a reigning world chess champion by AI under tournament conditions, has since become one of the world’s most influential political activists. A courageous, outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, he fled Russia in 2013 and settled in New York. On September 14, at the invitation of the Center for International Studies, Kasparov gave a talk on the “Trump-Putin Phenomenon” at MIT and took questions from the Globe.
Q: Do you think there was collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians?
A: I’m convinced that there was collusion, simple and plain. To me, “collusion” is not an accord of law, but is about circumstantial evidence. There is plenty of it. Putin had interest in interfering and did that to many other countries. And Trump had shown interest in receiving his help. Also, look at their behavior afterwards. Trump has never criticized Putin and the official Russian TV stations have never criticized Trump, even though they harshly attack America 24/7. As to whether there is anything tangible on whether Trump is beholden to Putin, I think we will find out from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But my gut tells me there’s definitely something wrong.
Q: You started criticizing Trump long before the presidential election. What concerned you the most?
A: I saw him as a man with no principle and someone who, if elected, would represent real danger to democratic institutions. Because he is a deal maker who came from a world where it is all about hand-shaking, not the rule of law. The way he behaves told me that he would be an autocrat. Coming from a non-democratic environment, I feel a responsibility to share my experience and warn people about the potential dangers Trump poses.
Q: Do you think democracy is in peril at this stage?
A: Democracy is always in peril because it is not something granted forever. I believe that Ronald Reagan was right when he said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It’s for this generation to actually rediscover democracy and make sure you can strengthen it. Yet I was glad Trump was elected because he is a wake-up call for Americans, since there is always complacency here. When I talk about human rights problems in Russia, China or Iran, Americans are always dismissive, saying: “Well, we will never experience the same.” I’d respond: “Are you sure?”
I think we are now facing the moment that democracy has to reinvent itself. Ironically, the free world has been used aggressively by dictators and terrorists to undermine the very foundation of democracy.
Q: Do you consider yourself a dissident?
A: I’m just doing as much as I can to promote universal values around the world. Russia is now the source of most problems. If it becomes the solution, that would be different. Imagine for a second, if we didn’t have Putin but someone liberal, many problems like Syria or North Korea would disappear.
Q: What do you think is the biggest damage that Putin has left in his wake?
A: He creates more dictators. Without him, many of them wouldn’t survive. And the fact that Putin can meddle with America encourages other dictators; it would be easy for them to follow his footsteps. That has put a hold on the promotion of democracy.
Q: You left Russia in 2013. Did you feel pressure or danger at that time?
A: Yes, I felt I was in danger. During Putin’s crackdown, I was called by the Russian Investigation Committee to testify about one of the big rallies and activities of our groups. So a good friend and ally of mine advised me to leave Russia and not to come back for the time being.
Q: But you are more influential in your own country. Have you given up on this mission to make Russia a better place?
A: I think I’m far more useful to Russia being an exile publishing stories, writing books, and giving lectures, rather than being in jail in Moscow. No doubt I will go back some day, but to a different country — and definitely that would be a free country without Putin.
Audrey Jiajia Li, is the 2017 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF).