The play of politics has often been compared to the game of chess. The similarities are more apparent than real. This was brought home to roost when the chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, announced that he was withdrawing from the presidential race in Russia. The election for the new president is slated to be held in March 2008. Mr Kasparov has been a well-known critic of Vladimir Putins rule and its many oppressive facets. The grandmaster himself has been a victim of Mr Putins strong-arm tactics. He had been jailed recently for taking part in an illegal rally. But this may have been only an alibi for arrest. Mr Kasparov has accused Mr Putin repeatedly of threatening the opposition by dominating the media and through new electoral laws that are said to be biased in favour of pro-Kremlin parties. Mr Kasparovs exit from the presidential race is being ascribed to a number of technical reasons. Under Russian electoral law, presidential candidates without affiliations to one of the four major parties that won seats in parliament must provide the details of two million supporters across the country. Moreover, such candidates must organize a meeting of an initiative group of at least 500 supporters before a December deadline. Mr Kasparovs allegation is that that he could not find a place to hold such a meeting in Moscow. He said hall bookings that had been accepted were cancelled for technical reasons with a mysterious regularity. In other words, Mr Kasparov was out-manoeuvred or, to use a phrase that he would appreciate better, he was checkmated.
This situation more or less clears the way for Mr Putins chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who was something of a surprise choice on Mr Putins part. Mr Medvedev reciprocated by proposing that Mr Putin should be his prime minister. There are reasons to believe that Mr Putin might, in fact, welcome such a post. In exchange for a new president, Russia may end up having a familiar face as prime minister. This will ensure that there is no change in the current power equation. This is important. Mr Medvedev does not come from the former security and military establishment the silovik clan. He comes from the civilian side and is thus known as a liberal. In fact, he represents the bureaucracy. But if he becomes Mr Putins pawn, the great contest between the silovik and the civilian within Russias body politic will turn out to be largely illusory. It will not be an exaggeration to suggest that Mr Putin is thinking many moves ahead of his opponents.