Ilyumzhinov to quit as President of Kalmykia

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Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovFIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will not stand for a 5th term as Head of Kalmykia, the Russian press agency Interfax reports. Meanwhile, on a day when the Argentinian Chess Federation switched their support to Anatoly Karpov, Ilyumzhinov published an astonishingly belligerent statement on the upcoming elections.

According to Interfax, Ilyumzhinov told them in a telephone interview that:
“I support the President’s policies in Russia aimed at renewing the regional leaders, and I do not intend to go for another term and claim the Presidency of Kalmykia. (…) On October 24, my fourth term as President of Kalmykia ends, and I do not think it is possible to go for a fifth. I support any candidate that the political party “United Russia” proposes as head of Kalmykia and nominates as President.”
The Russian newspaper Lenta adds to this brief statement that Ilyumzhinov intends to keep living in Kalmykia and “continue to work for the benefit of its people. I also plan to continue as FIDE President and promote the development of global chess.”

Ilyumzhinov’s position in Kalmykia had looked increasingly untenable since in April this year he repeated claims about an alien encounter on prime-time Russian television, provoking a question in the Russian parliament and sensational headlines around the world. His record in Kalmykia was recently assessed in a very negative light in the most popular Russian daily newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda (an English translation of the article can be read here), while only a couple of days ago the Karpov campaign reported on a newspaper article that predicted this turn of events: “RBC Daily: Kirsan Soon Out as Kalmykian Leader”.

When politicians resign, in a variety of circumstances, they often claim they want to spend more time with their family. In Ilyumzhinov's case that means his chess family (he just released a statement saying he wants "to focus on FIDE"). Almost simultaneously with his retirement announcement, however, he launched an extraordinarily outspoken attack on the Karpov campaign for playing politics with chess and “bringing chaos and upset into our chess family”. His statement on the website needs to be read in full to be believed, but here’s a taste (note “accomplice”, implying a crime):

The inept and destructive actions of G. Kasparov in the political arena hugely damage the international chess movement and Russia’s prestige at the world arena.

In the light of above, it is extremely strange that Anatoly Karpov has picked as his accomplice and is expressing the interests of a person with such a record of destruction of all the organisations and projects where he has taken part.

The most astonishing moment, however, comes at the end (the letters are this size in the original):

"I would like to remind that FIDE is not a place for political showdown, and, as other International Sports Federations, we shall not allow any direct interference of state bodies into the matters of National Federations.

We shall not allow destruction of our united chess world and we leave a right for ourselves for any appropriate actions!"

This appears to be a direct threat, though what exactly it threatens is unclear. How can we assess Ilyumzhinov’s statement? Perhaps the obvious point to make is that almost every criticism could be applied to both campaign teams. It’s odd, for instance, to criticise your opponents for personal attacks while, and not for the first time, launching vicious personal attacks on them. The clue to the tone of the statement, however, is in the mention of Latin America:

"Especially vividly it is seen in some Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Peru etc), where G. Kasparov and R. Conn have organised open pressure to the local Federations and their Presidents from the part of state bodies."

This refers to the remarkable announcement that the Argentinian Chess Federation (FADA) has switched its support from Ilyumzhinov to Karpov. No advanced knowledge of Spanish is required to understand the message on the FADA website.

FADA supports Karpov

Mig Greengard was perhaps the first to announce it to the English-speaking world in a tweet:
“Mi Argentina querida just switched to Karpov. Time for Kirsan to start lowering flags. Many more to come!”
What makes the announcement more critical for Ilyumzhinov is that Argentina is not just one of the 90 or so federations he claims support him, but one of his two back-up nominations in case a judge rules in favour of Karpov having won the Russian nomination. Ilyumzhinov must be an honorary member of FADA for the nomination to be valid, but that battle appears to be lost, as Chessbase report on a breaking story in the Spanish press:
“The Argentine Secretary of Sport, Claudio Morresi, has released an official statement saying that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is not an honorary member of the Argentine Chess Federation (FADA).”
With allegations of a similar scandal in Peru, and Beatriz Marinello’s nomination by Chile and Brazil also disputed, it’s easy to see how Ilyumzhinov might feel under pressure in Latin America, but again his claim of the Karpov team using government pressure on chess officials is enough to raise eyebrows. How can Karpov and Kasparov, private individuals, compete with the President of a Russian Republic when it comes to influence? The criticism would be more understandable if Ilyumzhinov avoided meeting political figures himself, but take, for instance, his trip to Vietnam (a “working visit”, meaning it could be reported on as well as the campaign website):
“At the airport Thang Shon Niat he was met by the President of the country Nguyen Minh Triet, the Secretary of the City Council Le Thanh Hai and the Mayor of Ho Chi Minh Le Hoang Quan as well as high officials of the President's Administration and Foreign Ministry.”
But maybe, at least, they just talked chess? No, as Susan Polgar’s blog quotes:
“Vietnam wants to boost cooperation with Kalmyk, said President Nguyen Minh Triet […] President Ilyumzhinov proposed cooperating with Vietnam in rice production for sales in Russia and republic countries of the former Soviet Union.”
But maybe Latin America’s different? Again, no. The Ilyumzhinov campaign made a big point of the fact that on his visit to Peru, Ilyumzhinov wasn’t alone. As FIDE Continental President Jorge Vega writes:
“The Chief of Commercial Affairs of Russia in Peru was accompanying us all the time, which also dispelled any ideas of Russian support to GM Karpov.”
Surely that should be “Russian Chess Federation support”, or is this “direct interference of state bodies into the matters of National Federations”? The point is not that Ilyumzhinov’s campaign has been any more ruthless than Karpov’s – they’ve both long since taken off their kid gloves – but that the criticisms are a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

So where does that leave us for the upcoming election? The short answer is: it’s anyone’s guess! Will the Court of Arbitration for Sport reject the Ilyumzhinov team’s nominations when it hears the lawsuit on September 15 and 16? Or will Ilyumzhinov in turn try to disqualify Karpov for not being nominated by his home federation? If, finally, the election does take place, will Ilyumzhinov win easily with the support he boasts of over 90 countries (most recently including China), or will that number turn out to be a “fantasy” (as the Karpov team claim).

In just 23 days, deo volente, we’ll know.
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