James Kirchick

Did the Cold War ever end?

Vladimir Putin turned seventy on October 7, but Garry Kasparov was not in the mood for a celebration. The Russian dissident, author and chess grandmaster had been invited to address the community of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where, seventy-six years ago, Winston Churchill famously announced the descent of an ‘iron curtain’ across the European continent. Seldom has a phrase so vividly captured a geopolitical phenomenon as Churchill’s clarion call about the looming threat posed by the Soviet Union. As Russia once again threatens European peace, it fell upon the shoulders of an exiled Russian democrat to issue a dire warning about the fate of what used to be called ‘the free world’.

Standing in the college chapel before a rapt audience, whose voices had just moments earlier joined in a stirring, organ-accompanied rendition of ‘Jerusalem’, Kasparov castigated the West for continually underestimating the danger posed by the revanchist regime in Moscow. ‘This war is decades in the making,’ Kasparov said of Putin’s brutal rape of Ukraine. ‘Thirty years of making concessions that were intended to keep the peace but only postponed the war.’ To those in the West who make the ostensibly pragmatic argument that the price of supporting Ukraine is too high, a complaint one hears these days from the nationalist right as much as from the anti-imperialist left, Kasparov had a pragmatic retort. ‘The price of stopping a dictator always goes up. It may seem expensive today, but it’s only going to be more tomorrow.’

Slyly making note of Putin’s birthday, Kasparov proffered a vision of the autocrat on the cusp of his eighth decade. ‘Somewhere in Russia, deep in a bunker, the little dictator is celebrating what has become the most dangerous, difficult year of his life,’ Kasparov said, revelling in the imagined fate of the man whose war against Ukraine will define his already blood-soaked legacy.

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