Garry Kasparov, writing in This is London:
People argue that Russia under Vladimir Putin's iron hand is stable. But while the Kremlin controls all the television channels, I wouldn't rely on those opinion polls. Give us two weeks of uncensored television and the myth of this regime, of its stability and prosperity, will be blown away.
When you talk to people in the countryside, as I do, they see Russia in a very different light. True, they did see some sort of stability in the early Putin years, which was a relief after the very hectic and tumultuous Nineties. But for the past two or three years they have seen a steady deterioration in living standards, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. Everybody can see it.
So people are starting to come out on to the streets in Moscow, St Petersburg and elsewhere. Change is not going to happen overnight but it will happen relatively quickly, and much sooner than anybody expects because this regime is built on sand - it has no real foundation in political or economic structures.
No one sets out to sacrifice himself or herself but I must keep going because I am leading people who are facing great dangers every day. I don't think about it. I just do what I have to do. That's what I learnt during my childhood. I could have a very different life now, but looking at what our activists are doing, the hardships they are experiencing every day, I believe I have no choice. Just look at how many repressive measures have been taken lately. The Constitutional Court decided you can be tried a second time for the same crime. Then parliament approved, at a first reading, a new amendment to the law on extremism. Now your prison term will be longer if they see 'extremist intention' behind your crime. And they are adding something quite ridiculous - people can face criminal charges for 'sympathising with or excusing extremism'. That applies to journalists as well, of course.
The FSB, the successor to the KGB, interrogated me for four hours. They were investigating a case of extremism based on interviews I had given. As far as I could tell, the lieutenant colonel was not ecstatic about having to question me. There was one telling detail. In his office he had two portraits, one of Putin and one of Felix Dzherzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka secret police. That's nice.
So, might I stand as a presidential candidate in 2008? I have been playing the role of co-ordinator, someone in the middle of a broad and quite fragile coalition of opposition groups known as The Other Russia. The game now is not about sending messages but about the opposition winning or losing. We now have to look for a candidate who can mobilise both Left and Right, voters from all walks of life. Stepping in as a candidate would mean me putting my personal agenda ahead of the common interest. That is why I think, for the success of the coalition, I should stay at the centre and do my utmost to bring in as many different political strands as possible. Everybody who joined The Other Russia signed a declaration which was very clear about the rule of liberal democracy. That's where Russia's future should be.
Two formidable politicians, ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Viktor Gerashchenko, the former head of the Central Bank, have declared their intention to run for president, and that is a good start. We may get a couple more candidates but, even with just these two, I think we can show our potential is as great as the combined potential of the Kremlin successors. The future lies here, not with tycoon Boris Berezovsky, now exiled in London. He called for a new Russian revolution, but it was a PR stunt. Berezovsky doesn't play any role in Russian current affairs. Obviously he is a man still full of energy who wants to pretend that he matters here. In fact, if you read his statement, it was more about Putin's entourage than the opposition. He was talking about buying the people around Putin. That's what made the regime so angry. I have no links to him - none at all.
We have only modest funds. If you look at our offices, you will see we are not living in the lap of luxury. We have resources, from Russian sources, and we know how to spend the money wisely. We don't need vast amounts of money because, unlike the Kremlin with its Nashi youth organisation, we do not pay people to demonstrate. From the West we hear only kind words, and that is fine. We believe this is our business. Condoleezza Rice came to Moscow and spoke about Kosovo and the missile problem but, as for elections in Russia, she said that was the internal affair of the Russian people.
The Americans are not exactly selling us down the river - we don't expect much from them. But for an administration which was so vocal in promoting the idea of democracy - making it the core of its foreign policy - to then say that democracy in Russia is irrelevant is outrageous. We are not asking the West to interfere but the fact is that the West is interfering - on Putin's side. They keep referring to Putin as a democratic leader, which is very damaging for our democrats inside the country.
Call a spade a spade: Putin is a dictator. And we want the West to be blunt about it too. I am not saying the West should break off economic ties with Russia. Western corporations make billions of pounds by trading with China and nobody talks about breaking off relations with the Chinese Communist government. But neither do people have any illusions that the Chinese Communists are democrats. So deal the same way with Putin. You cannot invite Putin to meetings of the world's properly elected leaders. He doesn't belong to G7 - I don't call it G8 because G7 stood for seven great industrial democracies. The G8 is utter nonsense.
When Western politicians and experts say the West has no bargaining chips in dealing with Putin, this is not true. The money of his ruling clique is kept abroad, and they won't be indifferent if they are refused entry visas. They will pay attention if the West is serious. I am not suggesting outright hostility, but simply that the West should recognise who they are dealing with: the Russian elite are rich, they're loaded with money, but they are not the same as Westerners because they do not respect the rule of law. And so you should make it clear, when Putin is part of a group such as at the Summit between Russia and the EU last month, you should say: 'Mr Putin, your country is a police state and you have to understand that, if you continue down this path, you will be treated as a rogue leader.'