SPIEGEL: Only a few thousand people showed up for the Dissidents' March in St. Petersburg in early March. Do the Kremlin's opponents stand a chance?
Kasparov: It was one of the largest protests in the last 10 years -- 6,000 people, according to our count. That's a large number, especially considering the risks associated with attendance. The police in many places have taken our supporters in for questioning. The local chairman in Vladimir was told that he could certainly go to St. Petersburg, but that he would run into problems there.
SPIEGEL: Was it an isolated case?
Kasparov: No. The people in power have put together a list of 10,000 alleged extremists, which is maintained by the intelligence service's anti-terrorism committee. Putin's talk about fighting terrorism and extremism has a purpose: He wants to create the option of using the tools of oppression against the opposition.
SPIEGEL: In one sense, the Kremlin is playing with two queens and you only have pawns at your disposal.
Kasparov: That wouldn't bother me. But the Kremlin is constantly changing the rules of the game to suit its purposes. We are not playing chess, we're playing roulette.
SPIEGEL: Your audiences sometimes number only in the hundreds, even in major cities. Are you frustrated by the apathy of the Russians?
Kasparov: In 1968 all of seven brave souls stood on Red Square to protest the Soviet Union's march into Prague ...
SPIEGEL: ... but it took another 23 years before the Soviet Union collapsed.
Kasparov: Our chances are better than that. The gap between rich and poor is widening. According to the magazine Finans, we have 61 US dollar billionaires, and Putin's name doesn't even appear on that list.
SPIEGEL: Are you claiming that Putin is a billionaire and possibly corrupt?
Kasparov: I believe that he is the richest of them all. The oligarchs Oleg Derispaska and Roman Abramovich are worth $21 billion each, and Potanin and Prokhorov each have $14 billion. How much do you think the man is worth who has the power to throw them all into prison on the same day?
SPIEGEL: The economy is growing and Putin is popular. His candidate will be the undisputed favorite in next year's presidential election -- or perhaps not?
Kasparov: I think that Putin's popularity is virtual in many respects. He certainly has legitimacy. He was elected, even though the elections were manipulated. But this legitimacy will end with the presidential election in March 2008. The current regime is beneficial to barely 15 percent of the population. Many among the remaining 85 percent -- 120 million people -- are dissatisfied.
SPIEGEL: Do you talk to Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov?
Kasparov: I had a fruitful conversation with him last fall. But then he visited the Kremlin a short time later and was allowed to accompany Putin on a trip to Vietnam. He is currently very loyal to the Kremlin and, after a prolonged, forced silence, is now permitted to say harmless things on television once again. He is hoping that his party will be able to enter parliament without running into any trouble. In return, he probably agreed not to cooperate with us. But this doesn't sit well with many of his comrades.
SPIEGEL: Why have you formed an alliance with the National Bolsheviks, who are considered extremists?
Kasparov: It's a leftist organization that is currently undergoing an evolution -- with our help. I would not call them extremist. Those are Putin's words. Former members of the radical left who have transformed themselves democratically are a known phenomenon in Western Europe. Look at (former German foreign minister) Joschka Fischer.
SPIEGEL: Will former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov be your candidate?
Kasparov: He could be, but only after a democratic discussion.
SPIEGEL: Would you rule out your own candidacy?
Kasparov: We live in a world in which one cannot rule out anything from the start.
SPIEGEL: Should the West apply more pressure to Russia?
Kasparov: Pressure is counterproductive. The regime uses it to its advantage. The West should simply be objective. Russia is not a democracy. If you realize this, you should say so. No one refers to the Chinese leaders or the Belarusian dictator Aleksander Lukashenko as democrats. Don't close your eyes when Russia supports terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas, or Iran.
Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann and Matthias Schepp.