Ukrainian who challenged Russian for chairmanship of chess body crushed

(AFP) – A Russian former deputy prime minister was re-elected as head of the international chess organization FIDE in a landslide on Sunday, weighing a Ukrainian challenger who said the incumbent was part of Moscow’s “war machine”.

In all, 157 of India’s 179 national chess federations voted for Arkady Dvorkovich as president, while Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets won just 16 votes, the federation said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov called it “clearly very good news and a very important victory,” Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

A number of Russian officials have been hit by sanctions since the invasion of Ukraine in February, and Russian participants have been banned by numerous international sports governing bodies.

But Dvorkovich, 50, who served under President Vladimir Putin as deputy prime minister from 2012-2018 when he was elected president of FIDE, has kept his position.

Baryshpolets had said before the vote at the FIDE general meeting in Chennai — held alongside the Chess Olympiad where Russian, Belarusian and Chinese players were absent — that Dvorkovich “has huge ties to the Russian government.”

“You Arkady are responsible for what has happened in Ukraine now. You are responsible for building the Russian government and the Russian war machine. And we as a chess world, how can we afford this?” said the Ukrainian.

The 31-year-old was supported by Peter Heine Nielsen of Denmark, coach of Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen.

But Dvorkovich said he took “a strong position” [on the] tragic events in Ukraine” and that he had supported the phasing out of Russian involvement in FIDE.

In March, Dvorkovich appeared to be criticizing the Russian invasion, saying in an interview that his “thoughts are with Ukrainian citizens”.

“Wars don’t just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections,” Dvorkovich told Mother Jones.

The comments provoked anti-aircraft fire in Russia, and Dvorkovich later appeared to row back, saying there was “no place for Nazism or the domination of some countries over others”.

This was seen as coded support for the Kremlin, which portrays Ukraine as ruled by Nazis and accuses Western countries of secretly taking over Russia’s neighbor.

Russian rule

Russia has exerted a huge influence on chess since Soviet times, when the game was one of many confrontations between the communist bloc and the West.

Before Dvorkovich took over, FIDE was led for more than two decades by eccentric Russian politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who claimed to have encountered aliens.

Dvorkovich has received praise as a capable driver, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and for making tough decisions after Russia was banned from international forums over the war in Ukraine.

Dvorkovich brought in five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India – one of the biggest names in the sport – as his running mate in the FIDE elections.

“We are building on the solid record and achievements of the past four years by Dvorkovich and his team,” Anand told AFP in an interview in July.

“The president’s decisions have clearly demonstrated his independence from Kremlin influence. On top of that… [FIDE] have developed ties with multiple sponsors and countries and managed to keep most FIDE events like the World Championship…out of Russia.

FIDE said in a statement that “Dvorkovich’s crushing election victory shows that he has earned the trust of FIDE’s member federations – and the wider chess community.”

“We will not condemn the henchmen of today’s vote, history will,” Baryshpolets’ Twitter campaign team ‘Fight for Chess’ said.

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