Russia Outmaneuvers Pro-Democracy Activist

MOSCOW, Russia -- Former chess champion Garry Kasparov is finding out what it takes to take on the Kremlin. Last month, he was arrested by Moscow riot police at a pro-democracy march he helped organize and then grilled by Russian security agents on suspicion of seeding extremism.

Russian activist Garry Kasparov speaks to press at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow

Friday, the grandmaster-turned-activist ran into the government's latest gambit.

As he checked in at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for a morning flight to the Volga River city of Samara to lead another march, a Russian police officer approached. Saying nothing, the officer took Kasparov's passport, his ticket and the passports and tickets of his colleagues, said Kasparov spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich.

Kasparov, his aides and several journalists on the same flight were detained for five hours. Kasparov missed his flight and a second flight leaving for Samara. When it became clear Kasparov and his team would not make it to Samara, police returned the passports.

"It was a joke," said Kasparov. "They took our passports and didn't say anything. When we tried to leave, they said, `You can't leave. You're not detained, but you can't leave.' They acted with such arrogance."

Russian authorities have ramped up pressure on Kasparov and his pro-democracy movement, Other Russia, since the group began organizing marches in some of the country's largest cities.

The movement, made up of a disparate group that includes former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov, speaks out against what it says are the authoritarian policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The rallies have been modest in size, drawing no more than a couple of thousand demonstrators. Nevertheless, police have responded with massive displays of force. At an April 14 Other Russia rally in Moscow, 9,000 riot police violently dispersed demonstrators, at times clubbing marchers before throwing them into waiting police buses.

The march Kasparov missed Friday went ahead as scheduled in Samara, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding a summit with European Union leaders. EU concerns about Russia's track record on human rights and democracy-building were expected to make talks tense, and Kasparov's detention only made matters worse.

"I'm saying very openly I wish that those who this afternoon want to protest and express their opinion will be able to do so," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a joint news conference with Putin. "I'm somewhat concerned that people had difficulties getting here."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any Kremlin involvement in the detention of Kasparov and his group. "I cannot comment on behalf of the police. The Kremlin was not in Sheremetyevo" airport, said Peskov.

A Moscow airport police spokeswoman declined to comment on the detention of Kasparov and his group.

Russian authorities have tried to portray Kasparov's movement as a fringe group with little appeal to most Russians. Asked about Kasparov's marches, Putin told reporters, "They don't bother me in any way. ... There is no reason for us to be afraid of marginal groups, especially such small groups."

Nevertheless, the measures that Russian authorities have undertaken so far to corral Kasparov underscore the concerns the Kremlin has about grass-roots movements similar to the popular uprisings that toppled authoritarian regimes in Georgia and Ukraine.

"These rallies and demonstrations are an element of the Orange Revolution technology, and the Russian authorities try to protect themselves from those technologies," said Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov, referring to the demonstrations in Kiev in 2004 that led to the ascent of Ukraine's Western-allied president, Viktor Yushchenko.

Source: Chicago Tribune