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Knight's Move

Kasparov resists Putin again.

11:00 PM, Nov 28, 2007 • By MICHAEL WEISS
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"NO MATTER WHAT happens, get Kasparov." So shouted one riot officer Saturday during the violently disrupted Dissenters' March in Moscow, according to David Nowak of the Moscow Times, one of the few newspapers left in Russia that doesn't have its reporting redacted by the Kremlin. When Nowak asked another officer why "seemingly peaceful bystanders" were being hauled off the streets at random and arrested, he was told, "Do you want me to [expletive] beat you with a baton?"

Welcome to life under Vladimir Putin, in which political opposition is met with swift and arbitrary punishment, and not even a tendentiously arrived at 70 percent approval rating is enough to satisfy executive confidence.

You would never know, judging by most of the U.S. media coverage of Garry Kasparov's arrest and subsequent jail sentence of five days, that the Dissenters' March was actually part of a multi-city spate of protests undertaken by Russians fed up with bullying dictatorship. It speaks well of Putin's propaganda, which brands all of his opponents as part of a monolithic sodality of crackpots and "jackals," that the Other Russia Coalition only organized two of the rallies held over the weekend--those in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Several others were independently staged in Nizny Novgorod, Tomsk, Orel, Pskov, Ryazan, Tula, and Kaluga.

As was the case under the Soviet Union, state suppression of public square-style democratic activity in today's Russia occurs well before the announced khappening. On November 21, Putin addressed 5,000 of his claque, speaking of his political antagonists thus: "They aren't going to do anything to anyone. Even now, they're going to take to the streets. They have learned from Western experts and have received some training in neighboring republics. And now they are going to attempt provocations here." And as if to send a signal that such "provocations" would not be tolerated, on November 23, the day before Dissenters' March, counterterrorism agents raided the offices of Kasparov's organization, the United Civil Front. According to the Other Russia's website, the agents said they were looking for "materials dedicated to disrupting civil order." What they instead found and confiscated were 5,000 stickers reading, "Vote for the coalition list."

The following afternoon, between the hours of 1 and 2 p.m., 2,000 people turned out onto Andrei Sakharov Square in Moscow with the proper permit to be there. The official slogans for the day were: "For Russia, Against Putin," "No Elections Without Choice" (Kasparov has been denied the right to run for president), and "Your Time Has Expired." The crowd dispersed calmly at around 2:15, with roughly 200 Other Russia activists planning to continue on to the building of the Central Election Committee, located near the Lubyanka metro station. Their goal was to deliver a petition condemning the abrogation of election rights in Russia and demanding that the committee--famously under the sway of Putin's United Russia--do its job and uphold the country's constitution. The banned Bolshevik National Party, part of the Other Russia's big-tent policy of anti-Putin inclusion, led this breakaway group, which was obstructed and redirected at every point along the streets by Moscow's OMON, or Special Purposes Police Squad. OMON's Soviet-era motto is: "We know no mercy and do not ask for any."

Kasparov, who had not accompanied the petition delegation, eventually wandered over to witness their confrontation with OMON, whereupon three officers, acting under specific orders by their commander, Major-General Vyacheslav Kozlov, broke past his phalanx of bodyguards and apprehended him. Marina Litvinovich, the chess champion's spokeswoman, and Denis Bilunov, a rally organizer, managed to get beyond the cordon to deliver the petition to CEC officials, who told them to expect a reply "within three days." Also arrested were Eduard Limonov, head of the BNP and a colorful anarcho-fascist who never met a chauvinism he didn't like, and Maria Gaidar, a member of the pro-market Union of Right Forces Party (SPS), who was soon released due to her immunity as a candidate for parliament.

Kasparov was right away taken to the Basmanny Rayon police station where he waited over an hour before his lawyers were allowed to see him. One, Olga Makhailova, never made it past the OMON cordon erected outside, and she says she had to wait again before being granted access to her client when he was removed to the Meshchansky District Court. Here's how she describes what happened next: