A former Russian deputy prime minister was re-elected head of the international chess federation FIDE in a landslide on Sunday, beating out a Ukrainian challenger who said the incumbent was part of Moscow’s “war machine”.
A total of 157 out of 179 national chess federations in India voted for Arkady Dvorkovich as president, while Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets received just 16 votes, the federation said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “clearly very good news and a very significant victory,” Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
Since February’s invasion of Ukraine, a number of Russian officials have been sanctioned and Russian competitors have been banned from numerous international sports federations.
But Dvorkovich, 50, who served as deputy prime minister under President Vladimir Putin from 2012 to 2018 when he was elected FIDE President, has retained his position.
Baryshpolets had said ahead of the vote at the FIDE General Assembly in Chennai – held alongside the Chess Olympiad from which Russian, Belarusian and Chinese players were absent – that Dvorkovich had “enormous ties to the Russian government”.
“You, Arkady, are responsible for what happened in Ukraine now. You are responsible for building the Russian government and the Russian war machine. And we as the chess world, how can we afford that?” said the Ukrainian.
The 31-year-old was supported by Peter Heine Nielsen from Denmark, coach of the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen.
But Dvorkovich said that he “took a strong position (on the) tragic events in Ukraine” and that he supported reducing Russian participation in FIDE.
In March, Dvorkovich appeared to criticize the Russian invasion, saying in an interview that his “thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”
“Wars don’t just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections,” Dvorkovich told Mother Jones.
The comments were met with flak in Russia, and Dvorkovich later appeared to backtrack, saying there was “no place for Nazism or the supremacy of some countries over others”.
This was taken as coded support for the Kremlin, which portrays Ukraine as Nazi-ruled and accuses Western countries of secretly taking over Russia’s neighbors.
– Russian rule –
Russia has exerted enormous influence on chess since the Soviet era, when the game was one of several areas of confrontation between the communist bloc and the West.
For more than two decades before Dvorkovich took over, FIDE was run by eccentric Russian politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who claimed to have encountered extraterrestrials.
Dvorkovich was lauded as an able administrator, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and for making difficult decisions after Russia was banned from international forums over the war in Ukraine.
Dvorkovich signed five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India – one of the biggest names in the sport – as his running mate for the FIDE election.
“We are building on the solid record and achievements of Dvorkovich and his team over the past four years,” Anand told AFP in an interview in July.
“The President’s decisions have clearly shown that he is independent of the Kremlin’s influence. In addition … (FIDE) has developed relationships with several sponsors and countries and has managed to hold most FIDE events such as the World Championship … outside of Russia.”
FIDE said in a statement that Dvorkovich’s “landslide electoral victory shows that he has earned the trust of FIDE’s member federations – and the wider chess community”.
“We will not judge the accomplices of today’s vote, history will,” said the Baryshpolets “Fight for Chess” Twitter campaign team.
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