Russia's Kasparov slams Putin for power grab

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov said on Wednesday President Vladimir Putin’s plan to run for parliament risked destabilizing the country.

Putin, who must step down as president next year, told a congress of the United Russia party on Monday that he would head the party’s list in December parliamentary elections and could be a future prime minister.

“Putin must be the boss, he wants to be the boss, he wants to remain the boss -- do you doubt it?” Kasparov, former world chess champion, told reporters.

“It is very dangerous,” Kasparov said, raising the specter of the February 1917 Russian revolution when Tsar Nicholas II was toppled, sparking years of upheaval and civil war.

“The consequences could be a collapse of power, February 1917. Power must be legitimate,” Kasparov said.

Putin’s announcement was seen of a way of preserving significant influence under a new president when he steps down next year after serving two successive terms.

At a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Russian activists said human rights were likely to suffer if Putin were to cements his grip on power by becoming prime minister.

Kasparov, well known in the West, is one of the leaders of the Other Russia coalition of anti-Kremlin groups which accuse Putin of crushing the democratic freedoms won after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kremlin supporters say the movement has no popular support and gains far more coverage in the Western media than it deserves. Other Russia has put Kasparov forward as its candidate to run in March presidential elections.


Kasparov said Putin had centralized power to such an extent since taking office in 2000 that he was afraid of letting go.

“Putin is afraid to leave, fear is playing a key role here,” Kasparov said.

“He has created a system where there is no guarantee but having power himself, so he will try to preserve it.”

“But he will do it subtly -- he doesn’t want to be Mugabe,” Kasparov said, referring to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980.

Kasparov said he doubted Putin would become prime minister and cautioned that Putin had sent many signals to obscure his real intentions.

“You should forget about that -- all his life he has been leading people along,” Kasparov said, citing previous speculation that Putin could endorse Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev, both first deputy prime ministers, as successors.

“Half a year ago everyone was talking about Ivanov and Medvedev and now where are they? They are nowhere,” he said.