Chess great Gary Kasparov, who has denounced Vladimir Putin for years, said “New Zealand’s voice must be heard” in global condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He told Breakfast on Monday that’s because it’s not just about Ukraine, but about the world.
Kasparov says Putin planned the invasion of Ukraine in plain sight, thinking he would get away with it.
But Putin has “reached a point where the world can no longer tolerate his aggression,” he says.
“It’s tragic that we had to walk this far, and Ukraine is now paying with its life.”
Kasparov has been warning the world for 15 years – forming opposition movements, leading protests, being arrested, imprisoned and beaten by police for trying to oppose Putin.
In 2015, Kasparov’s book Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped called on the West to stop placating Putin and warned of what would happen if he went unchecked.
He says Western powers “could have stopped Putin eight years ago” during the illegal annexation of Crimea. Instead, according to Kasparov, the West did not take Putin seriously and impose serious sanctions on him.
He says this allowed Putin to build up a kind of war chest. The Washington Post reports that Russia’s central bank had $640 billion in foreign exchange reserves, much of it in Western central bank computers, as of February 18.
“It is very unfortunate that Putin was not taken seriously and that politicians in Europe and the United States thought that they could pretend nothing had happened, making some kind of concessions to public opinion, but everything what was done before those days was more like paying lip service, changing public opinion, rather than applying serious sanctions to stop Putin by destroying his military machine.”
But Kasparov says the world is starting to hit Russia where it hurts now.
“It’s not about tanks but about banks because any war needs money,” he says.
“You can’t continue the war, you can’t even launch aggressive legislation unless you have resources and it’s very unfortunate that Putin was able to allocate huge financial reserves – he’s sitting on a war chest of hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars.”
The human rights defender said China was watching events unfold and if Putin was allowed to succeed, “Taiwan could be next.”
So what can New Zealand do?
“It’s not a question of the size of the country, it’s a question of freedom,” says Kasparov.
“New Zealand is a representative of a free world and it is very important that they join the consort of free nations to send a signal. This is not about Ukraine, this is about the whole world because if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, something can happen much closer to you.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern later told Breakfast she agreed with Kasparov that “the world must take a stand” against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and that New Zealand strongly condemned the attacks.
She says New Zealand is not in the same position as other countries in deploying military aid, but supports humanitarian efforts.
Measures taken by the New Zealand government include targeted travel bans, a ban on the export of goods to Russian military and security forces and the suspension of bilateral Foreign Ministry consultations until further notice.