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Episode : Putin, Pawns and Propaganda (with Garry Kasparov)
Preet Bharara: Let me say a big welcome to my guest on this week’s program, Garry Kasparov.
Garry Kasparov: Thanks for inviting me.
Preet Bharara: So, you’re known for a lot of things, but the thing you’re known for most is for being perhaps the best chess player in the history of the world. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that. Are you tired hearing that?
Garry Kasparov: Yes, absolutely.
Preet Bharara: No, you’re not.
Garry Kasparov: Well, okay, fine. I’ve retired long ago, so that’s why it’s a glorious part of my life, but I’m quite happy that I managed to have an orderly transition. And now I hope people can recognize me for doing other things, not only being the former world chess champion.
Preet Bharara: Before we get to the other things, I want to just stick on chess for a couple of minutes.
Garry Kasparov: Go ahead.
Preet Bharara: And we had lunch a few weeks ago and we talked about chess a little bit. When did you know that you were good at that game?
Garry Kasparov: Your question is a bit—
Preet Bharara: Bad question.
Garry Kasparov: Vague, because what do you mean, good? Everybody could see that I was good at it when I first learned how to play chess because I could compete with my relatives. And then at age seven, I could play well against all the kids in the [?Pioneer] Palace in the chess section in [?Baku]. If you mean good as the very strong chess player prodigy, probably age nine, ten. Good, being a potential world champion–age 13, 14.
Preet Bharara: When did you start playing?
Garry Kasparov: Probably I was six. But nobody was there to tweet this news.
Preet Bharara: Nobody was—Donald Trump wasn’t there tweeting your chess playing?
Garry Kasparov: No, no. And it was just—it was a winter evening, year ’68, ’69. I’d just watched my parents trying to solve some chess problems and I got infatuated with the game. That was the greatest moment. By the way, I was very lucky that I did discover chess at that early age, because that’s where I could show the greatest talent. I have to be thankful to my mother, who spent her life—dedicated her life to me after my father died. I was seven. And she never remarried. And from her, I learned how to work hard. You have to work, and if you fail, you just keep going on. So, it’s all up to you to make the difference. So, if not you, who else? That was her motto. That was on top of my bed. She also convinced me that the game of chess was not just about winning, but it’s about making the difference.
Preet Bharara: How is playing chess about making a difference?
Garry Kasparov: Oh. When you play chess, it’s just—it’s about finding something new, just new openings, new ideas in the middle game. Chess is not just a sport. It’s also an art and a science. So, there’s plenty of room for discoveries. And I was not just the best player in ‘80s and ‘90s, and the beginning of 21st century, but also, I was the most advanced pioneer explorer, because I always wanted to find something new. So, just to push the horizons, to come up with new ideas. And it’s also important because this is the way you can stay on top. Staying on top is also dangerous, since you don’t have opponents. You beat all of them and you can easily lose the sense of danger–it’s what I call the gravity of past success. The reason I could survive it for such a long time is because I always believed that I have to fight my own excellence. So, just fighting your own excellence gives you a good reason to come up with new ideas all the time.
Preet Bharara: Fighting your own excellence is a luxury problem to have.
Garry Kasparov: Well, look. It’s luxury, but many people failed by being on top. They just—they lost this sense of competition, and they became easy prey for other competitors. And I always thought that it’s not enough to win a new game with an old technique. So, you always have to come up with new ideas to be on the cutting edge and to make sure that you always have something in your sleeve to surprise your opponents.
Preet Bharara: You say you’re retired from the game of chess, but you still play chess.
Garry Kasparov: I hate telling you this. We have to agree on definition. For me—
Preet Bharara: Okay, look. A man after my own heart.
Garry Kasparov: No, no. For me, playing chess means playing chess professionally. So, that’s why I can tell you I have retired. In 2005, since that time, I played many simultaneous games, fun games, exhibition games, but I am retired from professional chess. So, when people say, oh, Garry’s just—he’s making a comeback. No, I just—I do it for fun. For me, it’s having chess vacation. It’s just—it’s for fun. So, I’m probably the strongest amateur on the planet these days. Not pro. I’m the strongest amateur on the planet.
Preet Bharara: No. Don’t hold back. But why retire? So, in other kinds of sports, if you’re a pitcher, you get old. If you’re a runner, your legs don’t move as fast. I assume your brain works just as well in the chess way. Why retire?
Garry Kasparov: No. First of all, let’s make it clear. Your brain is not functioning as fast as when you are 20 or 25. But the big issue is this. While you’re aging, you have other things to concentrate on. So, you have your family, you have other things. And your concentration is no longer the same crystal clear as it used to be when you were a teenager, or your 20s, or even your 30s. But for me, to retire at age 41, still being number one rated player in the world, was part of my belief that it was not just about winning, but about making the difference. And I thought at that time that I’ve made more than I could ever dream in the game of chess, so why not do other things and just try to remind myself, still being in the early 40s, playing to energy. And I believe that the world could offer me a few opportunities to invest my knowledge, my experience, my analytical skills, my reputation. And I’m quite happy that over the last 12 years, I managed this transition, just to establish myself as a human rights activist, as a writer, as a speaker. It’s a new life. It still has plenty of chess because I keep promoting game of chess for Kasparov Chess Foundation. But it’s a new life. And I think it was a very good decision
Preet Bharara: Last question about chess. Before you retired professionally, you actually had a non-human component. You played a computer.
Garry Kasparov: Quite a few, by the way.
Preet Bharara: You had one that was of considerable acclaim, where you played Deep Blue in 1996. You beat the computer. Why’d you agree to do that match?
Garry Kasparov: I’m still thinking, sometimes just the middle of the night, whether it was my curse or my blessing, I’m thinking about machines. So, it’s when I became world champion in 1985, machines were awfully weak. I played simultaneous exhibition against 32 computers at that time and won all the games–32 games. When I retired from professional chess in 2005, machines were virtually unbeatable. I was a world champion in this period and I still think it was my blessing that I was the world champion at that time, historic moment. Very narrow window where machines could compete with humans. And that’s—by the way, it happens everywhere. It’s not only in chess. It’s a classical algorithm. So, it starts with: Oh, it’s impossible. Then machines are too weak to compete. We’re still laughing at them. Then it’s real competition. And then machines are far superior forever after. In many other human occupations, we’ll see the same phenomena, but chess was one of the first ones. And while, again, you mentioned 1996, I won the match—I thought it was important for the world champion not to duck the challenge. So, the choice was, I could be beaten. So, at the risk of being the first one to be beaten, or at the risk of being the first one who ducked the challenge. So, for me, it was not a choice. For your audience, I can give a piece of trivia. The free chess app on your mobile device is stronger than Deep Blue.
Preet Bharara: I want to move on and talk about Russia. We talk about Russia a lot in this country these days, and the relationship with Putin.
Garry Kasparov: Actually, on American TV, you can hear much more about Russia than the Russian TV.
Preet Bharara: Right. I’m sure that’s right.
Garry Kasparov: Because Putin doesn’t want Russian TV to talk about Russia’s situation, so bad. That’s why on Russian TV, they talk about America as, of course, archenemy, and about anything else. Anything but Russia.
Preet Bharara: Right. But before we talk about Putin—and I know you have some views, and you’re not a fan—one day eventually soon, we’re gonna have a Putin fan on the show. But we’re having some trouble finding one.
Garry Kasparov: Oh, I’m sure you can find one. But—
Preet Bharara: They may not come on the show.
Garry Kasparov: Yes, yes.
Preet Bharara: The President, for example, may not.
Garry Kasparov: Yes, exactly.
Preet Bharara: But we hear a lot about the Russian government, and most people have not had a chance to go to Russia. What’s life like for an average Russian? And what does the average Russian think about American and Americans?
Garry Kasparov: Today?
Preet Bharara: Today.
Garry Kasparov: I lived in exile for nearly five years for an obvious reason. My mother still lives there, so that’s why I have some firsthand information. She’s 80. And she was born in Soviet Union, so she lived under Stalin, under Khrushchev, under Brezhnev, [?Andropoff], Gorbachev, Yeltsin, so she heard everything. And she tells me that today, it’s even worse than in Stalin’s or Brezhnev’s years, because there’s so much propaganda, though people could see through some of them. But it tried to present an image of the bright future. So, yes, we have some difficulties now, but eventually, we’ll build communism. We’ll build a society where everybody will enjoy equal rights, and we’ll have everything there. There will be an abundance of food and opportunities. It was a fake but positive image of the future. Putin’s propaganda is different. It’s more like cult of death. It’s not about positive future. Actually, there’s no future at all. It’s all about Russia being the besieged fortress surrounded by the global evil, and he, Vladimir Putin, is the only savior of Mother Russia from its multiple enemies. It’s poisonous. It’s totally brainwashing. And it has no positive substance.
Preet Bharara: Does the average Russian citizen buy it?
Putin’s propaganda is different. It’s more like cult of death. It’s not about positive future. Actually, there’s no future at all.
Garry Kasparov: I think that it’s the—many are buying it because you have to find an explanation for why your life is getting worse. So, it’s the intellectual/psychological drug. So, people can take it in just not to see the reality. But if we move from sort of average Russians from countryside to the more advanced social tiers in Moscow or St. Petersburg, here, the situation is different because it’s not just channel one or channel two, the simple primitive propaganda. We have to give Putin and his cronies credit for developing a very new type of propaganda. They develop great technique in selling this message in Russia by taming the minds of intelligent people, because the whole concept is simple: truth is relative. Putin is more like merchant of doubt. Oh yes, we are corrupt, but everybody is corrupt.
Preet Bharara: Right. It’s “what about-ism.”
Garry Kasparov: Exactly. This is “what about-ism.” And they manage to actually to become the top professionals by doing it in Russia. Then they move from Russia to the Russian-speaking neighborhood in former Soviet Union. The Baltics, the Ukraine. Then to Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and of course, eventually, they ended up in the United States. And they have been prepared already. So, what Americans experienced during the last election season, that was a technique that has been polished throughout years in Russia or in Russian-speaking countries. So, that’s why the troll [facturers], they have been already fully armed to play the same role as they did in my country, even in the United States.
Preet Bharara: So, it’s no longer like the days of Pravda, where you had one state-sponsored news organizations that only said positive things. Now—I’ve seen some of your writing on this—there are multiple news outlets, some of which, in some instances, are permitted to criticize.
Garry Kasparov: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Preet Bharara: To give them credibility.
Garry Kasparov: Exactly. Exactly. Because they have to build credibility. Since they have-as you pointed out, since they have many channels, they can afford to empower these channels with negative stories. They can criticize Putin. So, you immediately see that this channel is credible, but it has a story to sell. And then another channel sells another piece of story. It’s very hard for—even for an advanced audience to actually follow it, because they’re so quick. And again, remember: truth is relative. Yeah, they say, oh, we don’t know who shot the MH-17, the Malaysian Boeing. Yeah, but it could be different versions. To show you the paradoxical situations in Russia, that at the same evening, two different channels on Russian TV presented two different versions of the MH-17 being shot. One is by Ukrainian missile, one is by Ukrainian military jet. So, you say, how come? Who cares? It’s all about different versions. Some people heard this one. Some people hard that one. We don’t know what’s happened.
Preet Bharara: Right. It’s not about pushing forward a particular truth.
Garry Kasparov: No.
Preet Bharara: It’s about making people believe you can’t trust in any truth.
Garry Kasparov: Exactly. It’s destroying the very notion of truth. And of course, it aims at democratic institutions, because if nothing is true, then everything is relative, so what’s the difference between democracy and dictatorship? They’re all bad. Everybody’s corrupt. And you cannot take seriously even the open democratic competition during the elections, or the free press is not the free press because everybody’s is the same. So, it’s easy to poison people with the abundance of information.
…if nothing is true, then everything is relative, so what’s the difference between democracy and dictatorship?
Preet Bharara: Do you see any echoes of that strategy of attacking the very concept of truth going on in the United States?
Garry Kasparov: Oh, absolutely. So, it seems to me that now they already succeeded in spreading doubts among American public. It’s more about partisanship than about facts. If one sort of American public is not sure whether to believe a special prosecutor, or Russia Today, that’s already a victory for Kremlin. When I say Russia Today, of course, we can cite American media outlets that are simply repeating RT’s stories. But it’s hard now to convince people pointing at facts. That’s a big victory of Putin’s propaganda machine.
Preet Bharara: And is this a clever strategy because at base, many people, they want to believe what they want to believe, and they have an inclination towards a particular belief? And so, if you provide them with something that they hope to be true, they’ll believe it, or is it something different from that?
Garry Kasparov: You’re right. There are natural instincts of people, who are addicted to certain political views, to stick with the heroes. And if you feed them with information that satisfies their interest about the outside world, they can buy it. But while you have partisans on both sides, they have many people in the middle. And I think Putin’s propaganda is most effective for this middle, because it’s about doubts. You don’t want these people to actually look at the facts and take them at a face value. You want them to doubt.
Preet Bharara: You once said about Vladimir Putin—you said, “Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink.”
Garry Kasparov: Absolutely.
Preet Bharara: What’d you mean by that?
Garry Kasparov: I think calling a dictator a strong leader is—first, it’s disrespectful for the people who are suffering under his rule. And also, my knowledge of history tells me that the end of a dictatorship is bitter for any country. So, at the end of the rule of the so-called strong leader, you have poisonous minds, you have normally a ruined country and then you need democratic institutions—a republic—to repair the damage.
Preet Bharara: But do you think he’s a strong leader? And the reason I ask is we had your friend Bill Browder on the show a couple weeks ago, and he talked about the death of Sergei Magnitsky, among other things. And when I asked him whether or not Putin was a strong leader or not, he says something like he’s a small, weak man. So, is he strong in any sense, or is he smart in any sense?
Garry Kasparov: When we talk about Vladimir Putin today, we have to realize that when we call him strong leader, and I disagree, or just today, we follow with another extreme with Bill’s comments about him being a weak man, who is just looking for an opportunity to prove that he is not weak. But he doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Vladimir Putin looks strong because the opposition is weak. Because for years, we saw no political will in the free world to confront Vladimir Putin, when you could prove his weakness. And Putin knows—I wonder whether from books, or more likely from his instincts, that dictator can make many mistakes, except one. He cannot afford to look weak. So, that’s why it’s all about an image. Not being invincible, but looking invincible. And that’s why Putin does absolutely everything to demonstrate that he could be the strongest leader in the world by defying the United States, by defying European Union, by pushing his agenda. And he knows that even some relatively small victories could be turned into a major demonstration of his invincibility.
Preet Bharara: But this idea that you’re referring to of a dictator not able to allow himself to look weak, doesn’t that apply to every kind of leader—a president, a senator, a governor? What leader can afford to look weak?
Garry Kasparov: No, the way we talk about democracies, like in this country, we know that we have elections. So, and if you look weak, you can lose elections. But it’s a natural process. Image can, by the way, be tested by the facts. So, some people can argue that facts are not facts. But still, you have results. You have free press. If some press tells that the leader is invincible, you always have the opposite press. That way, it will tell you that the king is naked. Even if you deal with politburo, like Communist dictatorship, also with union, you still had certain rules within the group of the politburo members, the top Communist leaders. They had to negotiate, look for some balance and there were certain rules—not that I approve of this kind of rule. But there were rules of succession and they could conspire against each other, but they had an interest of preserving the system. Now, one-man dictatorship is the most unstable and dangerous form of government. It’s all about one man. Everything depends on his image, his strength. The entire system of checks and balance is built around him. It’s far more dangerous and unstable than any other form of dictatorship, where you have some groups—even the most egregious groups, mafia groups—negotiating with each other. It’s about one man. And we know from history that when everything was concentrated just around one man, so we ended up with the greatest disasters.
Preet Bharara: So, there are various strategies of dealing with dictatorships, and America has obviously national interests. And over time, America has dealt with Russia and the previous Soviet Union in different ways. And you’ve been critical, not just of Donald Trump, but also of the way that the Obama administration dealt with Putin and Russia. Let me quote something to you. You said, I think speaking about the reset of the Obama administration advocating with respect to Russia, you said, “What Obama did out of naiveté and misguided ideology, Trump may do seeking profit. But both Obama and Trump enjoy announcing big deals, and prioritize the illusion of success over the real thing.” Why did you say that?
Garry Kasparov: In fact, in my book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, I looked at earlier presidents. So, I talked about Bill Clinton and Bush 43. And my argument was that since the end of the Cold War, America had no strategy–long-term strategy–to make the difference, to change the world. Since World War II, from Truman’s administration to Ronald Reagan’s administration, there was certain consistency. There was a policy. Yeah, there were changes, but within the range. You had Democrats and Republicans recognizing there was an existential enemy, and it’s probably—it’s symbolic that institutions built by Harry Truman, by a Democrat, like CIA, NATO, National Security Council, and many others, they led to the victory in the Cold War on the Republican president at the last ‘80s. Since 1991, it was more like a pendulum. There was no strategy, so that’s why Bill Clinton did little, George W. did too much, Obama did almost nothing.
Preet Bharara: But is there no strategy because all of a sudden, the Iron Curtain fell and they didn’t know what the strategy should be?
Garry Kasparov: Absolutely.
Preet Bharara: What should it be?
Garry Kasparov: No. Let’s first discuss it, because we all make mistakes. And I can confess that in 1992, I was also reading The End of History by Francis Fukuyama, which just was a great joy, because we all expected that that was the end of history. Let’s celebrate. Let’s just look in the future with great expectations. But history is not linear. It goes in cycles.
Preet Bharara: It rhymes.
Garry Kasparov: Yes. And also, evil doesn’t die. It could be buried for a while under the rubble of the Berlin Wall. But the moment we lose our vigilance, it can sprout out. Toing back to 1991, ’92, we now have to recognize that when one chapter of history is closed, so we have to think about new plan. And the United States was and still is the leader of the free world, the most powerful country in the world. And it has to come up with an idea. What is next? Because if you don’t offer that, [?Vaca] doesn’t stay for too long. Then [?Vaca] was big field. And you have Putin’s [inaudible] North Korean regime, China. You have all sorts of fascists and terrorists and dictators that will benefit from America’s absence. Because America’s absence—well, it means that someone else will start coming up with an agenda, but this is not a long-term agenda. This is an agenda that is counterproductive for our future, the future of humanity, because it’s all based on immediate benefits for these players. And these benefits are just—they are not strategic, and they achieve at great expense of the people in these countries, but even for us here.
Preet Bharara: So, you’ve established and argued pretty persuasively that there hasn’t been a good strategy for dealing with Russia.
Garry Kasparov: No strategy period.
Preet Bharara: No strategy period. Okay. So, the absence of a strategy. So, let’s suppose you’re Secretary of State. Actually, let’s not suppose that, because the Secretary of State apparently doesn’t have any power or authority anymore. Let’s suppose you’re the President of the United States.
Garry Kasparov: I was not born here, so.
Preet Bharara: Nor was I. Nor was I. You are charged with figuring out what the strategy should be with Russia going forward, given the history. And I know we can’t solve this on a podcast, but what’s your best sense of how we should deal with Russia?
Garry Kasparov: I hear this all the time that, okay, what’s now? What’s now? We made mistakes. What’s now? As a professional chess player—
Preet Bharara: It’s not a bad question.
If you don’t excite young people with some kind of projects, ideas, then you’ll have Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups. Status quo always loses to dynamic ideology, even if this ideology is very unhuman and heinous.
Garry Kasparov: No, no, no. No, absolutely. But as a professional player, I insist that we just—before we make new moves, we have to just recognize mistakes we made. So, it’s very important you analyze the games. You recognize what went wrong, so how can you improve it, and then you come up with a plan. The very important part of any plan is just to recognize that the results cannot be achieved while myself, you, whoever, is in the office. This is a big mistake, because when you look at the politicians, whether in this country or across the Atlantic, they all look for immediate benefits. So, how can I get something out of this plan? Now, going back to the end of World War II—so, you have to come up with a plan that may work in ten years. It’s very important that we’ll get consensus that certain plans will not work instantly, and most likely, the benefits can be right by people that will follow you even if you don’t like them, because elections could bring other people in the office. If we have to deal with, I would say, existential threat, it’s not the same as the Soviet Union, but still existential because it’s even more dangerous to the very foundation of democracy. Because Putin and other fascists and terrorists, they know that they can survive only if they can erode the base of the free world. So, that’s why we recognize that, whether we like it or not, in the globalized economy, we are empowering our enemies with technology invented here in the free world that they use very skillfully to undermine the foundation of the free world. So, it’s a long story, but we have to recognize that we are at war. We don’t like it, but we are at war because the only way for these guys to survive is to be in the confrontation with us. They cannot compete with us in productivity, in innovations, in social services, but they have one strategic advantage over us: they don’t care about human life. So, for us, a loss of one life is tragic. For them, killing a million? It’s a demonstration of their strength. So, we just have to recognize that it’s time to utilize our resources, because unlike in the ‘40s or even earlier, we now, for the free world, have the overwhelming military, economic, and even cultural and social advantage. How we use it, how we invest our capital in the future—and I think it’s very important that it starts here in the United States because America should come up with a bright vision of the future. We just have to excite people about this vision. If you don’t excite young people with some kind of projects, ideas, then you’ll have Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups. Status quo always loses to dynamic ideology, even if this ideology is very unhuman and heinous.
Preet Bharara: I want to talk about two entanglements that we actually discussed before with respect to Trump and Putin, potentially. One is, at the end of 2016, when Obama was still president, but Trump had been elected, the Obama administration decided to engage in some sanction of Russia because of interference with the election. And they took some actions against Russian diplomats. And am I right that your expectation was, and most experts’ expectations were that in retaliation for what Obama did, Putin would then retaliate in return?
Garry Kasparov: That was a normal practice of the Cold War and that would be normal.
Preet Bharara: But that didn’t happen.
Garry Kasparov: Exactly. And that’s not normal.
Preet Bharara: Why do you think—
Garry Kasparov: That’s not normal.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Garry Kasparov: People should realize that for Putin to stop Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, of doing it after it was announced—by the way, Russian foreign minister had already announced that they would mirror American actions.
Preet Bharara: And do what?
Garry Kasparov: Oh, just expel the same number of diplomats, so it’s–it’s something accepted throughout the Cold War. And for Putin today not to do the same, so not to respond to American hostility by not expelling American diplomats, and instead of inviting kids of these diplomats to a Christmas tree celebration in Kremlin–that was a show of weakness.
Preet Bharara: Right. Just to make him—that is the exact opposite of all these things we’ve been discussing.
Garry Kasparov: Unless, unless, unless he had something much bigger in mind. So, for Putin to look weak means, for me, that he had something else. He calculated that he could be compensated with a much bigger victory and the only explanation is that he expected Trump to rewind this order. And the reason he believed was that Michael Flynn called Russian ambassador, when I think he reassured Russian ambassador that Trump administration would not honor Obama’s actions.
Preet Bharara: You don’t think it was the promise of a weekend at Mar-a-Lago?
Garry Kasparov: It was something much bigger. What is important is that Vladimir Putin believed Michael Flynn. So, to be—
Preet Bharara: I’m sorry, but when you say—we don’t have any evidence—
Garry Kasparov: But he called.
Preet Bharara: That Michael Flynn said that thing.
Garry Kasparov: No, no, it’s the—look, agree. Okay. So, we are just—if we follow the story—
Preet Bharara: We’re allowed to speculate on the podcast. That’s okay.
Garry Kasparov: But speculating is—what we know is that Vladimir Putin stopped Russian foreign minister of doing what everybody expected him to do, to expel an equal number of American diplomats.
Preet Bharara: Even what America expected him to do.
Garry Kasparov: Everybody expected. So, that’s already—that’s not just showing weakness, but also undermining one of his most trusted cronies, who just followed the protocol. Now, we also know that Michael Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador. We don’t know what he said, but he spoke to the Russian ambassador. So, I’m trying to connect these dots. You may call this speculation. So, what I believe happened is Michael Flynn asked Russian ambassador to pass the message to Kremlin that new administration would go back to normal and I think he begged him not to retaliate, because that would give Trump sort of a better opportunity to show his friendship. I see no other explanation why on earth Vladimir Putin made this decision and extended the olive branch to America by inviting American kids to a Christmas tree in Kremlin.
Preet Bharara: Right. And do you think Vladimir Putin regrets his decision to stay the hand of Lavrov in retaliating?
Garry Kasparov: No. Well, again, Putin played this game. I think the story proves to me, so you may call it speculation, that they had already many contacts with Michael Flynn, and they trusted his authority to convince Trump to reverse the order. Whether Flynn acted under Trump’s instructions or not, it doesn’t matter. I think what is important, that’s as long as I understand the Putin psychology, he believed that Michael Flynn had acted on behalf of Trump. And Putin expected, as, by the way, Russian propaganda machine, expected Trump to perform and to rebuild relations with Russia.
I think what is important–that’s as long as I understand the Putin psychology–is he believed that Michael Flynn had acted on behalf of Trump.
Preet Bharara: This may be an unfair question. And I know we’re speculating about what happened in that conversation with Michael Flynn and the staying of the hand on retaliation. But on a scale of one to ten, how confident are you in your theory?
Garry Kasparov: Ten.
Preet Bharara: Ten!
Garry Kasparov: Ten.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s certainty. That’s no longer speculation on your part.
Garry Kasparov: Yeah, it’s—yeah, I’m here, and I can afford to speculate. But Putin’s a rational man. So, when you look at what he does. In this case, there’s no other explanation, that Putin believed that he had to show this mercy and being gracious, because something was big was coming. And if you go back and just you look at what Russian propaganda said about Trump—and by the way, what they’re still saying about Trump, even despite the fact that America is archenemy. It’s 24/7 America bashing propaganda all over the place. They always separate Donald Trump and the deep state.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Garry Kasparov: So, the only criticism of Trump you can hear on Russian television is that he is weak, and he cannot tame this deep state that is preventing a good guy, Donald Trump, to improve relations with Russia. And I think that Putin had a dream that maybe they could bring Trump to Crimea, and just to have another maybe not big three, but big two now, scene of 1945 Yalta dividing the world. So, I think that was Putin’s master plan. He expected that with Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, that they could succeed.
Preet Bharara: I mentioned that there were two entanglements between Trump and Russia that I wanted to talk about. The second one, this other entanglement, has to do with Trump’s tax returns. And there has been a lot of talk during the course of the campaign and since, of people being upset that Donald Trump broke with tradition and norms of campaigning and didn’t release his tax returns. Here’s what you said about that. You said, “I’m troubled by Trump’s refusal to share his tax returns. In 2008, he was saved from bankruptcy by an influx of foreign money, and we have good reason to suggest that the money, most of this money, came from Russia and Russian oligarchs.” And you think the tax returns might show that. Explain your belief there.
Garry Kasparov: Naturally, Trump had relations with foreign money. According to his own son, a lot of this money came from Russia during this crisis–2008, 2009. We know that Russian oligarchs, as oligarchs from other places, they’re always looking for sort of the best schemes to launder money. And real estate was the most trusted algorithm of siphoning money from one country to another. Obviously, a lot of money could change hands, but with real estate, you can put any price tag. And then it’s very hard to prove any wrongdoings. So, it seems to me that Trump empire was an ideal target for Russian oligarchs or ideal part of Russian oligarchs to channel money to the United States. And since Trump’s own son bragged about it, so I believe that it did take place, these transactions, these multi-million-dollar transactions took place. Now, unless we see his tax returns, it will be very hard to prove the scope of the operation. For me, the problem is how much. It’s not whether it took place.
Preet Bharara: Right. Do you think that the reason Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns in this?
Garry Kasparov: I mean, probably the other things as well. But I’m sure there were many operations that could show that he was not very scrupulous with tax regulations. Here is pure speculation. I have no—
Preet Bharara: On the scale of one to ten, this is a lower number.
Garry Kasparov: It’s a much lower number.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Garry Kasparov: But, if he was as rich as he claimed he was and he is, and all these operations, the money transfers, the real estate deals, they were as clean as he claims they were, so why not? So, if he was so adamant of doing something which could hurt his image, because he’s very protective of the image and I think he knew—he knows that his refusal to release taxes was hurting him. So, that means that he had very serious reasons.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, some greater interest.
Garry Kasparov: Exactly.
Preet Bharara: So, given my prior job, I looked at your arrest record, and you were in fact arrested, am I correct?
Garry Kasparov: Yes.
Preet Bharara: In 2012.
Garry Kasparov: Yeah, also—yeah, a few times.
Preet Bharara: Well, let’s talk about the—it’s a long rap sheet, I know. But let’s talk about the 2012 arrest. You were arrested at a protest?
Garry Kasparov: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Tell us what happened.
Garry Kasparov: Actually, it was not a protest. I was arrested several times at protest actions. But in 2012, I was on my way to the courtroom where they had to read the verdict for Pussy Riot.
Preet Bharara: Pussy Riot, who—right.
Garry Kasparov: Yes. It was the same courtroom where they had the verdict for [?Kolnikofsky]. So, that’s why I knew where it was. So, I just arrived from my summer vacations, and I was just walking there. And there was no protest. All I wanted is just to get into the room and just to sit there, and just to—
Preet Bharara: So, what law did you break?
Garry Kasparov: No, I broke no law. I mean, it’s just—I had so many journalists just surrounding me, the moment I was just taken away and dragged by six of the riot police officers into the car, I was talking to a Radio Liberty correspondent. It just—thanks god there was so many videos that showed that I broke no laws, and I was just attacked all of a sudden by the riot police, because they got an instruction. So, oh, it’s just, take this guy away.
Preet Bharara: Do you think it was an instruction directly relating to you, Garry Kasparov?
Garry Kasparov: That’s what always happened in Russia and still happens. Typically, you have the KGB guys, so the Secret Police guys in the crowd. And they give instructions, who to be arrested. I don’t know why they wanted this conflict. Just no idea. So, but they took me away. And then I tried to run away, and then just, I was beaten. And then they tried to charge me for attacking officer, biting his—so, the good news—
Preet Bharara: Did you bite an officer, sir?
Garry Kasparov: No, I didn’t. For 20 seconds that I was lying on the floor, so I didn’t even have time to open my mouth for any actions. Now, the good thing is that because there was so many cameras, they actually—some journalists actually found, just in the pictures he made, so that this officer that allegedly was beaten, he actually had this cut on his finger ten minutes before.
Preet Bharara: So, good for instant replay. That’s very helpful.
Garry Kasparov: Yeah, it’s good for—and also, each of these 20 to 21, 22 seconds of me just being dragged by police and beaten, so they were recorded from different angles. But it was 2012. And if the same happened today, nobody—who cares? So, I would up in jail for five years for attacking police officer who was in uniform and in active duty.
Preet Bharara: So, you think that the justice system such as it is in Russia has deteriorated that much from 2012 to 2017?
I hope—I dream that one day, when Russia, instead of being the permanent source of the problem, would become the rational solution for our problems.
Garry Kasparov: It’s not the justice system, because it was already ruined. It’s about the instructions from the government, because the end of the justice system actually could be demonstrated at my first arrest in 2007, where they arrested me—again, I did nothing illegal. And then they had a police officer testifying who didn’t see me at all, who was actually—who couldn’t even mention the place and time of my arrest. And then the judge who was hearing the case, she said, “Look, I trust police officer, not videos, not audios, not witnesses. Trust him because he’s wearing the uniform.” So, since 2007, in Putin’s Russia, no matter how much evidence you can bring with videos, with other witnesses, it’s all about police officer who has the final word.
Preet Bharara: Do you miss Russia?
Garry Kasparov: Look, I would like to come back just to visit my mother, so just a few friends. I don’t think I will go back to live there because I have my home here, I have my kids here in New York. But I think it’s important for me just to feel free to come back and to help my country just to go back to normal, because I believe that the future of Russia could have vital importance for the future of humanity. Because if Russia keeps deteriorating and creating more problems, the price we’ll all pay could be too high. So, I hope—I dream that one day, when Russia, instead of being the permanent source of the problem, would become the rational solution for our problems.
Preet Bharara: Garry Kasparov, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time here.
Garry Kasparov: Thank you.
Preet Bharara’s new podcast, “Stay Tuned with Preet” on CAFE, is now live. Listen here on Apple Podcasts.