As Carl Schrek reported in Foreign Policy this week, the Kremlin has been starting to meddle a bit in the nomination of Russia’s candidate for the presidency of the international press federation, or FIDE. Brief backstory: On May 14, the Russian Chess Federation narrowly nominated Soviet chess superstar Anatoly Karpov to be its candidate. Across town, another meeting, just shy of a quorum, renominated the zany incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
You may remember Kirsan Ilyumzhinov from such world events like running a tiny autonomous majority Buddhist Russian republic on the Caspian Sea; being friends with Saddam Hussein, Chuck Norris, and Muammar Qaddafi; being so inspired by his meeting with Pope John Paul II that he built a massive Catholic church for the republic’s one (1) Catholic; and being questioned in the Russian parliament over his 1997 tour of an alien spaceship during which Ilyumzhinov may or may not have shared sensitive state secrets with “humanoid aliens.”
Ilyumzhinov is a chess fanatic who has made chess mandatory in Kalmyk schools. As president of FIDE for the last 15 years, he introduced “speed chess,” which has taken the sport to the popsy level of speed dating.
And now that he has a serious opponent for the Russian nomination, the Kremlin is stepping up to defend him. First, Arkady Dvorkovich, the Duke-educated president’s deputy, called the nominating votes illegitimate. Then he went and seized to the offices of the Russian Chess Federation.
Today, at around 2:15 Moscow time, black suited men from the private security firm “Peper” arrived at the Federation’s offices, and presented Federation president Aleksandr Bakh with a diktat signed by Dvorkovich saying that Peper was now in charge. They then kicked out the regular security guards and sealed off some rooms in the building as a helpless Bakh called the police.
Dvorkovich, whose father was a chess arbiter, has spent the last few days saying that Ilyumzhinov is the better, more experienced candidate, and the question is, why does the Kremlin even give a shit?
It might have something to do with the uncontested election of Russian politician Alexander Zhukov to head the Russian Olympic Committee. Zhukov, an avid chessman himself, has sworn that he will make chess an Olympic sport because it is a sport that is “advantageous for Russia.” That is, it might pad Russia’s future medal counts which flopped so mightily in Vancouver. To do that, the Kremlin apparently wants its own stooge on the FIDE throne. Karpov, backed by the toxic Kremlin critic and persona non grata Garry Kasparov, probably doesn’t seem like a safe gamble.
Second, Ilyumzhinov has kept Kalmykia firmly, calmly under his rule since 1993, which is nice in a region that is becoming more and more restive and dangerous. Third, Kalmykia has some nice oil and gas, and straddles a geostrategically precious corner of the Caspian sea, potentially perfect for building a pipeline to, say, India. This could easily be a little reward for a strategically located and very loyal Ilyumzhinov.
I also can’t believe I just wrote 500 words about a chess scandal.