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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Rude Reception for Kasparov in Caucasus

ReutersLiberal politician Garry Kasparov speaking on a visit to Stavropol on Thursday.
Whatever welcome Garry Kasparov was expecting when he toured the North Caucasus last week, the rude reception he received from local authorities appeared to take the chess champion-turned-liberal politician aback by its ferocity.

In Dagestan, police prevented him from visiting a refugee camp; in North Ossetia, he had eggs covered in ketchup thrown at him; in three cities the authorities refused to allow his plane to land; and in town after town meeting venues were canceled or suffered power outages, and hotels became mysteriously booked up or closed for repairs.

Kasparov, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin and a leading member of the United Civil Front, a newly established opposition group, was touring the North Caucasus on a campaign stump last week. On his itinerary were meetings with ethnic Dagestani refugees and the Beslan Mothers' Committee, but instead Kasparov spent most of his time struggling to overcome various obstacles put in his way, in some cases apparently by local authorities.

Kasparov is not the first opposition politician to find his campaigning efforts sabotaged or obstructed. In 2004, presidential candidate Sergei Glazyev saw his campaign thwarted as electricity was turned off at meeting venues in various cities, and he had to resort to holding meetings on the street.

"Quite obviously, the order was given out across the entire Southern Federal District, but the techniques used were different in Dagestan, North Ossetia and Stavropol," Kasparov said by telephone from the Rostov region, where he had gone to board a plane to Moscow on Friday.

Kasparov had a plane chartered specially for his tour, but airports in Stavropol, Rostov-on-Don and Taganrog refused to allow it to land.

"We made no secret of our itinerary. We distributed it to reporters," Kasparov's spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich said. "Those who tried to sabotage our trip clearly had this program in front of their eyes."

Since Kasparov, the world's No. 1 player from 1985 until his retirement from professional chess in March, announced he would devote himself full-time to politics, he has been the victim of physical violence on more than occasion. In April, he was hit over the head with a chessboard by a young man at a meeting, and in May he was roughed up by police outside the Meshchansky District Court at a rally in support of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

A campaign visit to Novosibirsk by Kasparov last month was also hit by cancellations, with authorities forbidding him from holding meetings at a college with students and opposition politicians, and a local television station canceling a planned studio appearance.

Kasparov arrived in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, last Monday with a group of 12 aides, bodyguards and journalists. The group set off for the tent camp on the border with Chechnya where residents of Borozdinovskaya, an ethnic Dagestani village in eastern Chechnya raided by masked men last month, had fled. One elderly man died in the raid, and 11 more are missing, in what residents have claimed was an attack by a former rebel warlord turned pro-Moscow militia leader.

On their way to the camp, however, Kasparov and his group were stopped by police and had to turn back.

From Dagestan, Kasparov on Tuesday headed for the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, and nearby Beslan, where last September more than 330 people died in the raid on School No. 1 after 1,200 children, teachers and parents were taken hostage by Chechen gunmen.

In both towns, Kasparov said he was prevented from holding public meetings and had to address crowds on the street outside canceled venues. When he spoke outside a house of culture in Vladikavkaz, a group of teenagers threw eggs covered in ketchup at him, Litvinovich said.

Local authorities denied any involvement in the incident, and state media in Moscow accused Kasparov of trying to "make political capital" out of the Beslan tragedy.

North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov said that the teenagers had attacked Kasparov in a "spontaneous demonstration of their feelings."

"Three days before the visit of Garry Kimovich, anti-government and anti-presidential posters and manifestos were placed on all the walls. So people had plenty of time to form their own point of view and think about what they wanted to do," Mamsurov said in an interview published in Thursday's Rossiiskaya Gazeta government newspaper.

"Accusations in our direction or in the direction of the special services are absolutely groundless. It is quite clear from the videotape that the teenagers were throwing eggs and ketchup. As we all know, teenagers do not serve in the FSB," Mamsurov said.

Calls to Mamsurov's press office went unanswered Friday.

"Politicking over the smoldering embers of such a tragedy and playing on the emotions of the suffering -- never mind deliberately fanning the flames of the volatile North Caucasus -- are in bad taste, and that is why Kasparov was targeted," RIA-Novosti journalist Pyotr Romanov wrote in an online commentary Friday.

Litvinovich and at least one journalist traveling with Kasparov said that they saw the teenagers who threw the eggs being brought to the meeting and driven away in a police vehicle after the incident.

"What is very important is that people were coming up to us in North Ossetia to say that they were sorry about what the authorities were doing, and to apologize that they could not show us traditional Caucasus hospitality," Kasparov said.

On Thursday, Kasparov and his entourage had to wait for four hours in Vladikavkaz as authorities at Stavropol airport refused to allow their plane to land.

"They said they had some stones on the runway, but after four hours, they changed their minds and approved our landing," Litvinovich said.

In Stavropol, the group had reservations at the privately owned Yevrootel, but when they arrived they were told no rooms were available.

Litvinovich said she had to race around town to find a place for the group to stay. An employee at the city's Turist hotel told her that the authorities had told local hotels not to accommodate groups from Moscow, she said.

"I don't know anything about such an order, but I can say that even if Kasparov had come here yesterday we would not be able to offer him any rooms. Half of the hotel is undergoing renovation, while the other half is full," an administrator at the Turist hotel, who refused to give her name, said by telephone from Stavropol.

Vasily Makarenko, general director at Yevrootel, said that as the boss of a privately owned hotel he did not take his orders from the authorities.

"We are a private hotel and our goal is to make money," Makarenko said by telephone.

Kasparov's group was eventually able to stay at Yevrootel.

Makarenko said that the delay was caused by a lack of coordination with his staff. He said he did not know the hotel rooms were booked by Kasparov and that he had promised the rooms to another group.

"In the end it worked out well, and when Garry Kimovich left he looked very pleased and even posed for a photograph," Makarenko said.

Kasparov had a meeting scheduled on Thursday at Stavropol's Intourist hotel, but when he arrived it turned out that the electricity had been cut off, and he again had to address a dozen people on the street, Litvinovich said.

On Friday, both Rostov and Taganrog airports refused permission for Kasparov's plane to land, saying that their runways were undergoing repairs. The group had to take taxis to Rostov to board a plane to Moscow.

On Monday, Kasparov plans to hold a news conference in Moscow about his trip, and will complain about the disruptions his group faced, Litvinovich said.

Taganrog and Rostov airport officials could not be reached for comment Friday, but a statement issued in March by regional carrier Aeroflot-Don, which manages Rostov airport, said the runway would be closed for repairs between Sept. 1 and Oct. 29.

Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said that tricks like cutting off electricity at campaign venues were nothing new in Russian politics.

"Opposition candidates at various levels have been victims of such jokes as long as we have had elections in contemporary Russia," Makarenko said by telephone Friday. "There's nothing new or unique about Kasparov's experience."