Russian opposition leader and former chess world champion Gary Kasparov has been arrested in Moscow while leading a demonstration protesting the government's policies. Here is the New York Times account, and a shorter one by CNN. Kasparov is arguably the most famous political opponent of President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian government, and a strong supporter of democracy, civil liberties, and free markets. Here is a January Wall Street Journal article describing Kasparov's opposition activities in more detail. Back in 2001 - at a time when George W. Bush was still assuring us that Putin was a "good man" because he had "see[n] into his soul," Kasparov sounded an early warning about the ex-KGB President, noting that "Putin's KGB roots have informed a style of governance that is neither reformist nor particularly democratic" and that Russia's government was sliding towards authoritarianism by suppressing opposition media and playing on nationalistic fears. Since then, Putin has suppressed nearly all opposition electronic media, and probably connived in the murder of print journalists who had criticized the regime.
Kasparov's arrest is not only an outrage in its own right, it is significant as an indicator of Putin's willingness to further tighten his authoritarianism. If Putin is able to get away with arresting even a world-famous opposition leader, less exalted opponents of the government can expect even harsher treatment. Hopefully, there will be enough of an international outcry to persuade Putin to desist and force him to tread more cautiously in the future. But it is hard to be optimistic about Russia's immediate political future after the experience of the last several years. As Kasparov put it in 2005, Putin has "abolished the nature of democratic institutions [and] he will go further." The mere fact that the current president of Russia is an authoritarian former high-ranking KGB official is a strong indication that things have gone badly wrong 15 years after the fall of communism. It is as if the Chancellor of West Germany in 1960 had been a former high-ranking Gestapo or SS leader.
UPDATE: For those who read Russian (I know we have some readers in that category), here is a link to the website of the United Civic Front, the opposition political movement that Kasparov founded in 2005. It has extensive coverage of his arrest, as well as that of some 250 other opposition leaders and protestors arrested at the same demonstration in Moscow.
UPDATE #2: Apparently, Kasparov has been released, but only after being forced to pay a fine "for participation in a banned protest rally."
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