Garry Kasparov On his 5 day imprisonment for Leading Anti-Putin, Pro-Democracy Demonstration:

Russian liberal democratic opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has an interesting column recounting his recent 5 day imprisonment for leading a demonstration against the increasing authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin. For my previous posts on Putin and Kasparov, see here, here, and here. And for Russian-speaking readers, here is the website of Kasparov's United Civic Front opposition movement.

While far from ideal, both the length and the conditions of Kasparov's imprisonment were much less severe than what dissidents got for similar anti-government demonstrations in the Soviet era. Still, the fact that Putin felt free to imprison a world-famous opposition leader even briefly implies that he is likely to be less restrained in dealing with opposition figures who aren't as well known in the West. As Kasparov notes in his op ed, "Opposition activists--or just those who happen to be in the way of the [Putin] administration--are harassed and arrested on false charges of drug possession, extremism, or the latest trend, for owning illegal software."

For the moment, a combination of economic growth fueled by high oil prices and nationalist demagoguery have rendered Putin's regime invulnerable to political challenge. Even in the absence of authoritarian repressive measures, Putin and his allies would probably prevail in the upcoming Russian presidential election. However, oil prices will eventually fall, and Putin or his handpicked successor are unlikely to remain popular forever. At that point, Russia will face a choice between moving towards free markets and liberal democracy or increasing quasi-socialist authoritarian nationalism.

The significance of Kasparov and his United Civic Front movement is not that they have any real chance of undermining Putin's regime in the near term, but in their ability to maintain a viable liberal democratic opposition against the day when the regime's popularity begins to fade. Many of the possible alternatives to Putinism - such as a truly radical and extremist nationalist regime - are far worse than the current government. Kasparov's movement is the only one that is clearly better.

Like it or not, Russia remains one of the world's most important economic and geopolitical powers. Both Russians and Westerners therefore have an important stake in the future of Russia's liberal democratic opposition.