Ex-Russia deputy PM beats Ukrainian to World Chess Federation presidency

·4 min read
Arkady Dvorkovich, former Russia deputy PM, beat Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets to the FIDE presidency - Federico Bernini /Bloomberg
Arkady Dvorkovich, former Russia deputy PM, beat Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets to the FIDE presidency - Federico Bernini /Bloomberg

A former Russian deputy prime minister has beaten his Ukrainian challenger in elections for the head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), in a move welcomed by the Kremlin.

Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets was defeated by Arkady Dvorkovich, the sitting FIDE president, who initially denounced Russia's war on Ukraine but in a later interview praised Russian soldiers.

“Wars are the worst things one might face in life…including this war," he said in March. "My thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians. Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections.”

He then said in a later interview: "The war against Ukraine was a campaign against fascism…I, like all post-war children, was brought up on patriotism…and hatred of Nazism. I am sincerely proud of the courage of our soldiers, who at all times defended their homeland and freedom”.

Mr Dvorkovich's election victory was welcomed by the Kremlin. “The election of the FIDE president is always very important, this is a world event. The fact that Dvorkovich won is very, very good news,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said after the landslide victory of 157 votes to 16 was announced at the FIDE meeting in Chennai, India.

Russia dominates FIDE and its financial accounts have shown that more than 90 per cent of its donations come from state-linked Russian companies such as Russian Railways and Gazprom.

'Not enough interest in war' to depose Dvorkovich

The breakdown of how delegates from national chess federations voted in the election is not given and it is not clear if many of the Western delegates supported Mr Baryshpolets, who accused Mr Dvorkovich of being unfit for office.

“Sometimes the roots of evil run too deep,” he said after the result. “Undoing years of corruption in a few weeks was mission impossible.”

Malcolm Pein, England's chess captain at the Olympiad in Chennai and the Telegraph's chess columnist, said that the FIDE constitution meant that all 179 voting national chess federations had the same weight and that outside the West there wasn't enough interest in the Ukraine-Russia war to depose Mr Dvorkovich.

"The Ukrainian candidate did not manage to get around to meet enough delegates and Dvorkovich had all the advantages of the incumbent. He is also personally a very likeable man and a competent administrator," he said.

Mr Pein said that chess was seen as form of soft power by the Kremlin which has controlled the sport since the end of World War Two.

"Regarding the war and having a Russian as head of FIDE, it think it could be very damaging for chess unless the president manages to distance himself from the Kremlin but he will find this very difficult," he said.

Arkady Dvorkovich has been FIDE president since 2018 - Alamy Stock Photo
Arkady Dvorkovich has been FIDE president since 2018 - Alamy Stock Photo

Mr Dvorkovich, 50, has been president of FIDE since 2018 and is credited with expanding the reach of the game.

He took over from Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, another Kremlin-linked official who was head of Russia’s remote Kalmykia region on the Caspian Sea. Mr Ilyumzhinov once claimed to have been abducted by aliens and was only dropped as FIDE president after 23 years because the US had placed him on its sanctions list.

On Twitter, Mr Dvorkovich’s re-election triggered arguments between chess grandmasters.

Ukrainian Mikhail Golubev called the FIDE delegates “irresponsible, conceited, ignorant, greedy immoral morons” prompting Emil Sutovsky, the Israeli FIDE director-general, to call for people to “respect” the result.

Viewed as a moderniser, Mr Dvorkovich had been considered a rising star of Russian politics when he was appointed deputy prime minister in 2012 but as the Kremlin became increasingly anti-Western he drifted away, dropping out altogether when he took over as FIDE president.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Dvorkovich said that he felt sympathy for Ukrainians. This angered Russian president Vladimir Putin who fired him as head of the prestigious Skolkovo Foundation tech hub.

Since then, though, he has rowed back his criticism and said he admires the courage of Russian soldiers.