NEW YORK — Garry Kasparov has a message for those who didn’t fore see Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election: “I told you so.”
“I’ve been saying many of the same things about Vladimir Putin for over 17 years,” Kasparov, the former world chess champion and political activist, said at a conference on activism here Monday. Other attendees included former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy and David Hogg, a Florida high school student who has emerged as a gun control advocate.
Kasparov — whose 2015 book, “Winter Is Coming,” warned of Putin’s rise as a dictator on the global stage — said he voiced his concerns about the Russian president to anyone who would listen.
“Putin is not a democratically elected leader — he is a dictator,” Kasparov said, recalling remarks from a 2007 conference he attended in Washington, D.C. “I said, yes, Putin was a bad guy. He was Russia’s problem, but if he wasn’t contained, he would be a regional problem — and soon after, everybody’s problem.”
Kasparov said Russia’s spread of so-called fake news across American social media networks — part of a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the U.S. elections — was “nothing new for us in Russia.”
“The sad news is propaganda works,” he said. “Fake news works.”
By the time Putin took aim at the U.S., Kasparov said, his cyber army had more than 10 years of experience in such attacks.
Kasparov — originally from Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic — has been living in forced exile in New York City since 2013. He did not mention special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. But he suggested where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
“Donald Trump had more Russian connections than Aeroflot,” Kasparov said in his remarks at the University Club, just two blocks south of Trump Tower. “While I believe in coincidences, I also believe in the KGB.”
“Every country has its own mafia,” he continued. “In Russia, the mafia has its own country.”
Still, Kasparov echoed the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials that the Kremlin will continue to target elections, in the U.S. and abroad.
“Putin will attack again, here and elsewhere,” Kasparov said. “He has no choice. He needs enemies — big ones.”
Kasparov said that to combat Putin, Americans must put value in democracy and the truth.
“You can’t defend yourself against Putin and the Putins of this world if you don’t believe what they are attacking is worth defending,” he said.