FULTON – The invasion of Ukraine awakened free countries to the threat posed by Russia and Vladimir Putin, but whether they will sustain that resistance to dictators is an open question, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said Friday during a speech at Westminster College.
On the Missouri campus where Winston Churchill warned in 1946 that the Soviet Union was cementing its hold on Eastern Europe behind an “Iron Curtain,” Kasparov said it is again time to confront the evil of authoritarianism.
Churchill’s speech, “The Sinews of Peace,” helped inspire President Harry Truman’s policies of containment and the creation of NATO. Kasparov, a long-time critic of Putin, said a “grand alliance” of democracies can show dictators that freedom, and not profits, will define their future relations.
In 2015, Kasparov wrote a book titled “Winter is Coming” warning that the weak international response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea would embolden Putin.
“Today there is a clear and present danger,” Kasparov said. “Winter is here. It is still unclear if the free world is willing and able to meet this challenge.”
Kasparov, who left Russia in 2013 as his political activity made life there more and more uncertain, made his remarks as he gave the Enid and R. Crosby Kemper Lecture during the 39th International Churchill Conference sponsored by Westminster. He delivered his half-hour talk in the restored St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, Church, bombed in London by the Nazis in World War II and moved to Fulton to house the National Churchill Museum.
As he began his speech, Kasparov recognized other dissidents who accompanied him and who are fighting for freedom in their home countries, including Syria, Venezuela and Iran.
In Iran, women have taken to the streets in protest of strict Islamic controls on their lives.
Russians should be in the streets protesting Putin, Kasparov said.
“If only Russian men were as brave as Iranian women,” he said.
Kasparov grew up under communism in the Soviet Union and became the youngest world chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22. He was the world’s highest rated player when he retired in 2005.
He became involved in politics after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“It was a glorious day, a day of celebration and a huge step forward for global freedom,” Kasparov said. “The problem was the next day.”
Unlike Churchill and President Harry Truman, who brought Churchill to his home state for the 1946 speech, world leaders did not act to preserve the freedom won at the end of the Cold War, he said.
“In 1991, unlike in 1946, we had managers instead of leaders,” Kasparov said.
He’s been warning about the rise of Putin since 2001, Kasparov said. But Western Europe and the United States were more interested in accommodation, seeking profit in the revived Russian economy and ignoring the increasing repression.
In the 1930s, he noted, the appeasers of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in Britain and France were seeking peace at any cost.
“It was a brutal lesson to learn how high that cost was,” Kasparov said.
Now, he said, Ukraine is paying the price of appeasing Putin.
“The Ukrainians have reminded us what it looks like to fight for your land, your freedom, your family,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Kasparov said U.S. administrations of both parties are to blame for not being tougher with Putin. But he said President Joe Biden’s administration is doing the right things to support Ukraine.
He is concerned that former President Donald Trump will win another term in 2024 and cut off support for Ukraine. Trump’s supporters in Congress vote against aid to Ukraine and his cheerleaders on Fox News, especially Tucker Carlson, are telling Trump supporters that Putin is justified in the war.
“I couldn’t believe I would hear Russian propaganda talking points on American television,” Kasparov said. “I am still waiting for the true followers of Ronald Reagan to take their party back.”
Kasparov joins a distinguished list of international leaders who have used Westminster as their venue in honor of Churchill, including Reagan, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Polish President Lech Walesa.
Kasparov made his homage to Churchill in the title of his speech, calling it “The New Sinews of Peace,” and made several references to the inspirational British war time leader.
Few people outside, and many inside, Britain held out hope for victory over Hitler after the defeat of France in 1940. But Churchill rallied his nation and held out until the Soviet Union and the United States were drawn into the war.
On June 4, 1940, in a speech to Parliament, Churchill promised that “we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.”
In February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, many expected a quick defeat and the U.S. offered to fly President Volodymyr Zelensky to safety. Zelensky gave the modern equivalent of Churchill’s words, Kasparov said.
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” Zelensky told the U.S., according to the embassy in Kyiv.
Churchill’s great-grandson Jack Churchill, who attended the speech, said he is “100%” in agreement with Kasparov on the need to confront Putin and for the democracies to band together as they did after the 1946 speech.
“I am very proud that my great-grandfather is an inspiration to the next generation of people fighting for freedom and democracy,” Churchill said.
It is vital that the U.S. not diminish its support for Ukraine, Kasparov said in his speech. The United States, the “arsenal of democracy” in World War II, has assumed that role for Ukraine.
“An America that does not defend liberty everywhere will see decay at home, a process that is already happening,” Kasparov said.
The weapons being provided in aid and the extra costs for consumers because the war has disrupted energy supplies is a bargain, Kasparov said.
“Who are we to complain about the price of gas,” he said, “when Ukranians are paying in blood for our sins?”