Ex-chess champ Kasparov seeks Latvian citizenship to escape Kremlin's grip

Russia's former chess champion turned fierce Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov (above) said on Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013, he was seeking Latvian citizenship as he feared the Russian authorities would hinder the extensive travel needed in his bid to become t
Russia's former chess champion turned fierce Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov (above) said on Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013, he was seeking Latvian citizenship as he feared the Russian authorities would hinder the extensive travel needed in his bid to become the supremo of world chess. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's former chess champion turned fierce Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov said on Wednesday he was seeking Latvian citizenship as he feared the Russian authorities would hinder the extensive travel needed in his bid to become the supremo of world chess.

Mr Kasparov, who is currently living outside Russia for fear of arrest, said he also had close ties to Latvia and wanted Russia to be a "democratic state that overcame its totalitarian (past)", like its Baltic neighbour.

Mr Kasparov is battling to become head of world chess body FIDE in what is widely seen as a two-man race against Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has headed the sport for 18 years and is widely seen as having the Kremlin's support. The staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would have to travel to more than 50 countries in campaign lobbying.

"In conditions where Ilyumzhinov enjoys the support of the current authorities, I could not entrust the question of my freedom of movement to Putin's Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Mr Kasparov said in a statement in Russian on his Facebook page.

"This is the main reason why I want to obtain dual citizenship," he added, emphasising he had no intention of surrendering his Russian passport.

Mr Kasparov said his former wife is Latvian and that modern Latvia, a European Union member, was now integrated "into the European family of peoples which I hope Russia can be part of in the near future".

The former chess great, who was born in Baku in what is now Azerbaijan, had said in June he would not be returning to Moscow for the moment because he could be investigated for his role in protests against Mr Putin.