MOSCOW - The Kremlin appears to have checkmated chess genius Garry Kasparov, eliminating the internationally known figure from the presidential race.
Kasparov said yesterday that his bid collapsed because supporters were blocked from renting a meeting hall to nominate him - part of President Vladimir Putin's campaign, he said, to snuff out any viable opposition and turn Russia's March 2 ballot into a virtual one-man contest.
The move makes it impossible for Kasparov to challenge Putin's chosen successor as a candidate. But even if his supporters had nominated him, Kasparov would have faced formidable barriers, such as a Putin-era law forcing independent candidates to gather 2 million signatures - nearly one out of 50 Russian voters - for a spot on the ballot.
Kasparov has said that requirement would be impossible to fulfill. "We all knew I wasn't running . . . because we don't have an election," Kasparov said in an interview yesterday. "It just shows that this game is fake at each stage."
Under Russian law, independent candidates can run for president only if a group of at least 500 supporters meets formally to vote on the nomination. Yesterday was the deadline for notifying the Central Election Commission of such a meeting.
Members of the Other Russia coalition, which Kasparov helps lead, say the managers of meeting halls and auditoriums refused to rent to them. Kasparov said he believed the managers were ordered not to let the meeting take place.
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the accusations were absurd. "The Kremlin isn't involved in renting out halls, and blaming the Kremlin in any way in this case would be considered illegitimate," he said.
Authorities kept up the pressure on Kasparov and his allies yesterday. Police halted buses carrying dozens of Other Russia supporters on the outskirts of Moscow as they headed for the wake of 22-year-old Yuri Chervochkin.
Chervochkin died earlier this month, allegedly as a result of a police beating at an opposition protest in November.
The activists were later released and arrived at the ceremony escorted by dozens of police, said Sergei Aksenov, a participant. Mourners included Kasparov and the nationalist author Eduard Limonov, leader of the opposition National Bolshevik Party.