MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov on Thursday rebuked George W. Bush and Group of Eight leaders for giving President Vladimir Putin a platform to present himself as a leader of the free world.
Kasparov, a world chess champion who has become one of Putin’s fiercest critics, said Russia had no place in the Group of Eight (G8) because Putin had dismantled democracy.
He singled out Bush for failing to press Putin hard enough on democratic backsliding and scoffed at the U.S. leader’s public show of friendship with Putin, whom he calls “Vladimir”.
Kasparov called on summit leaders “to state the obvious - that Russia, under Putin, does not belong in the G8 because it is not a democracy and it is not an industrial power.”
“They must make sure that either Putin satisfies these conditions or he’s no longer there,” he told reporters.
Kasparov added that while Bush sought to show his friendship with Putin, the Russian leader had compared the United States with Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
“Bush is still trying to seek a middle ground and calls Putin ‘Vladimir’ although his friend Vladimir more or less calls him Adolf,” Kasparov said.
Kasparov was referring to a speech by Putin on May 9 when he made a thinly veiled comparison between the U.S. and the Third Reich. The Kremlin later denied Putin’s comment was a reference to the United States.
Bush and Putin said they had a “constructive” dialogue on Thursday on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Germany. Bush had signaled that he would raise concerns about the erosion of democratic freedoms in Russia at the meeting.
At a speech in Prague ahead of the summit, Bush said reforms had been derailed in Russia with troubling implications for democracy. Kasparov met Bush in Prague after the speech.
Kasparov said Bush was “in a state of denial” about Putin and that he should repeat his concerns about Russian democracy at the G8 summit.
Critics say Putin has harmed democracy by centralizing power in the Kremlin and squeezing dissent. Supporters say he has brought prosperity and order to Russia after the chaos of the 1990s.
Kasparov said the West should continue to do business with Russia, whose economy has boomed under Putin, but should treat it with the same political caution as it does China.
“There’s nothing wrong with telling Putin he can’t act like a Lukashenko and yet be treated like a democratic leader,” he said, referring to the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who the U.S. has described as the last dictator in Europe.
Speaking ahead of an opposition rally in St Petersburg by the Other Russia opposition movement, Kasparov conceded that the turnout at rallies has so far been small.
But he said the symbolic value of the protests could be enough to trigger major changes in Russia. Some recent rallies have been banned by authorities and then dispersed by riot police.
A demonstration, but not a march, has also been sanctioned in central Moscow on Monday. Kasparov said the participants face more “ominous threats” there than in St Petersburg.
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