MOSCOW (AP) – The former world chess champion is awaiting his opponent’s next move.

Garry Kasparov, released from jail after serving a five-day sentence for leading a protest against Vladimir Putin, acknowledged Friday he holds the weaker position in his confrontation with the Russian president.

But Kasparov predicted the upcoming election season, which begins with Sunday’s parliamentary vote, will force the secretive Putin to reveal his strategy in the nail-biting political game gripping the country as Putin’s time in the Kremlin runs out.

As the campaign for the March 2 presidential vote gathers pace, Kasparov said, the Kremlin’s beleaguered, fractious opponents can regroup for a new push aimed at “dismantling Putin’s regime.”

He hopes their ranks will be strengthened following Sunday’s vote, which will also push dissenting voices further to the margins.

With Putin leading the ticket of the main pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, government authorities have made an all-out effort to secure an overwhelming victory. Watchdog groups alleged this week that government officials across Russia have been using their powers to intimidate opposition campaign workers and candidates.

Putin has cast the election as a crucial vote for continuity – and suggested that a convincing United Russia win would give him a popular mandate to retain influence after the presidential vote, in which he is barred from seeking a third term.

Kasparov labeled Sunday’s vote a farce that will push the country toward dictatorship.

Maneuvering to maintain control, Putin has sprung a series of surprises on Russians, but kept them guessing about his specific plans. Unlike in chess, Kasparov said, “The only rule in our game with the Kremlin is that the Kremlin changes the rules whenever it sees fit.”

“Materially, we are now the weaker side, we cannot dictate our game,” the former world chess champion told a news conference. “And the rule I’ve learned all my life is that if your position is weaker, you must await the active moves of your opponent.”

That will happen, he said, by the Dec. 23 deadline for nominating candidates for the presidential vote. Putin is expected to name a favored successor, who would almost certainly win; Kasparov said he did not rule out that Putin would seek to remain president.

“Now our opponent must make a move that will draw him into a game with rules … and then we will be able to respond,” he said. “Whatever happens, I believe that at the beginning of next year, a real opposition to the regime will begin to form in Russia.”

Sunday’s vote, he said, will bring “total domination by United Russia.”

“Russia today does not correspond to even the most primitive idea of a democratic state,” he said. It is “an authoritarian state with a very serious tendency toward single-party dictatorship.”

Aside from United Russia, only one party – the Communists – appears certain to clear the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats in the 450-member State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Kasparov, who has struggled to attract more than a few thousand people to protests he has led over the past year, said more people could join opposition groups after the vote.

Opinion polls put Putin’s approval rating around 80 percent and indicate United Russia could win that proportion of parliament seats. But Kasparov, citing rising prices and the gap between rich and poor, says there is much more discontent.

He asserted that the heavy-handed campaign being carried out by United Russia is motivated by Putin’s awareness of that discontent.

“He knows that the real situation in Russia is far, far apart from the virtual reality he presents on television,” he said.

Kasparov has sought to harness opposition through a series of street protests called Dissenters’ Marches, several of which have been violently broken up by police. The Other Russia has voted to nominate him as its presidential candidate.

He has been detained several times, and last Saturday he was sentenced to five days in jail, convicted of leading an illegal march, chanting anti-Putin slogans and resisting arrest during a Moscow protest.

Kasparov said he and others jailed were denied access to lawyers and visitors.

“The authorities … are ignoring the constitutional minimum that was followed even in the Soviet Union,” he said.

AP-ES-11-30-07 1517EST

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