March 23, 2023

(AFP) – A Russian former deputy premier was re-elected as head of international chess body FIDE by a landslide Sunday, seeing off a Ukrainian challenger who said the incumbent was part of Moscow’s “war machine”.

In India, 157 out of 179 national chess associations voted for Arkady Dvorkovich as president, while Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets got just 16 votes, the federation said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “obviously very good news and a very important victory,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, several Russian officials have been sanctioned and Russian players 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 FIDE president, has retained his position.

Barish Polets said before the vote at the Chennai FIDE Congress that Dvorkovic “has close ties to the Russian government”.

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

The 31-year-old has the support of Denmark’s Peter Heine Nielsen, coach of Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen.

But Dvorkovic said he took a “strong position” [on the] Tragic events in Ukraine”, and he supports reducing Russia’s participation in FIDE.

In March, Dvorkovich appeared to criticize the Russian invasion, saying in an interview that his “ideas are with Ukrainian civilians.”

“War doesn’t just kill priceless lives. War kills hopes and aspirations, and freezes or destroys relationships and connections,” Dvorkovic told US news site Mother Jones.

The comments drew fire in Russia, and Dvorkovich later appeared to hit back, saying “Nazism or the domination of some countries over others has no place”.

It was seen as a covert support for the Kremlin, which portrayed Ukraine as under Nazi rule and accused the West of trying to covertly take over Russia’s neighbors.

Russian rule

Russia has wielded enormous influence in chess since Soviet times, when chess was one of many areas in which the Communist bloc confronted the West.

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

Dvorkovic has won praise as a capable manager, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and tough decisions after Russia was banned from international forums over the war in Ukraine.

Dvorkovic has wooed five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India – one of the sport’s biggest names – as his running mate in the FIDE election.

“We rely on the solid track record and achievements of Dvorkovic and his team over the past four years,” Anand told AFP in an interview in July.

“The president’s decision makes it clear that he is not influenced by the Kremlin. Most importantly… [FIDE] Established contacts with multiple sponsors and countries and successfully hosted most FIDE events such as World Championships…outside Russia. “

FIDE said in a statement that Dworkovic’s “landslide victory in the election shows that he has earned the trust of the FIDE member federation and the wider chess community.”

“We won’t judge accomplices of today’s vote, history will,” said Baryshpolets’ Twitter campaign “Fight for Chess.”

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