In the wake of the chaos surrounding the Syrian war, former Russian opposition leader and chess world champion Garry Kasparov says Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “one man dictatorship” who needs conflict with the West to maintain power.
Putin ordered an air defence missile systems to be deployed at an air base in Syria Wednesday following the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by Turkey. Officials have said the move could raise the threat of military confrontation between the NATO member and Russia.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Global News’ 16×9 Kasparov said Putin needs conflicts like Syria or the Ukraine to solidify his image as a strong leader who can fight Russia’s enemies.
“Putin’s Russia is a full blown one man dictatorship,” Kasparov told 16×9. “Whatever he does outside of Russia, whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s Syria now or all sorts of provocations against NATO countries violating their airspace…it’s all about him looking strong in Russia.”
Speaking from his apartment in New York’s Upper West Side, he said Russian propaganda presents “Putin as a strong leader who is indispensable because Russia is surrounded by enemies.”
WATCH: Russia deploying anti-air missiles to bases in Syria
Kasparov, 52, is a Russian chess Grandmaster who became the world’s youngest-ever world champion chess player at the age of 22. The son of an Armenian-Russian couple he grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.
After officially retiring from chess Kasparov got into politics where he founded the United Civil Front and then headed The Other Russia, a coalition opposing President Vladimir Putin. He ran as a candidate in the 2008 Russian presidential race but was forced to withdraw as his campaign appearances were being disrupted and he was jailed during a protest in Moscow.
Now working for the New York-based Human Rights Foundation he is one of the sharpest critics of the Kremlin and says the West needs to approach the Russian leader “like a game of chess.”
“We have to make sure we play chess, not poker. Because Putin, and every dictator, is very good at playing poker,” Kasparov said.
“Poker is a game of psychology. You can win with a very weak hand if you know how to bluff and he is a KGB guy, he knows how to bluff.”
The latest incident involving the Turkish military downing a Russian warplane has again roiled tensions between Russia and NATO counties.
Putin called the incident a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” but U.S. President Barack Obama said Turkey had a right to defend its airspace, and claimed Russian air activity near the Syrian border contributed to the crisis.
Russia’s involvement in Syria is not the first time Putin has directly provoked North America and Europe. The 2014 invasion by Russia into the Ukrainian region of Crimea led to an international outcry and heavy sanctions by countries like the U.S. and Canada.
Stéfanie von Hlatky, director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University, says western leaders often “tolerate” Russian aggression to prevent a conflict from escalating.
“There’s certainly a pragmatic recognition on the part of countries like Canada that they are willing to tolerate certain Russian provocations to a certain extent in order not to fuel the flames or fan the flames of the existing tension,” said Stéfanie von Hlatky, director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.
On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would not be “helpful to point fingers” in the Turkey-Russia incident.
However, Hlatky said that following the Paris attacks she saw some cause for “optimism” concerning the coordination of between world powers in the Syrian conflict.
But Kasparov says Putin is a dictator who is willing to stay in power at “any cost.”
“He is in the survival mode. He doesn’t care about consequences,” Kasparov said. “He doesn’t think about Russia’s strategic interests. For him, Russia is Putin. Putin is Russia. That is the final stage of having a dictatorship but it’s the most dangerous one.”
For more on the increasing aggression from Vladimir Putin’s Russia watch 16×9’s investigation “The Next Cold War” premiering at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 on Global.