Arkady Dvorkovich, Russian Deputy Prime Minister from 2012-2018, has been re-elected as President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) for another four years. He defeated Ukrainian Grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets by a landslide 157:16 vote at the FIDE General Assembly in Chennai, India, after the remaining candidates all withdrew.
Since the World Chess Federation was founded in 1924 there have been just seven presidents.
The elections for FIDE President are always murky, with the principle of one federation, one vote meaning that countries with few chess players have the same power as major chess countries with tens of thousands of rated players.
Inevitably it’s often a question of what a candidate can directly promise the delegates of a country, while another level of influence is diplomatic. The Russian government is reported to have directly campaigned through its embassies in previous elections.
We’re used to seeing at least two well-funded campaigns go head-to-head, most memorably in 2014, when Garry Kasparov took on Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, but in 2022 there was a lack of serious competition.
Enyonam Sewa Fumey from Togo, who was on Dvorkovich’s ticket in 2018, was the first to announce he would stand against Dvorkovich in 2022, but “FIDE machine is working efficiently” is hardly a rallying cry for change.
Fumey dropped out when he failed to get the backing of any European chess federations, and it surprised no-one when he recently gave full backing to Dvorkovich.
Two more campaigns raised questions. The mysterious Chechnya-born Belgium Inalbek Cheripov, who had once planned to stand on Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s ticket before the Russian was sanctioned by the US over links to Syria, announced his candidacy and then withdrew, he said for health reasons, less than a week before the election. Few had become any clearer who he was or what he represented.
Then there was Bachar Kouatly, a Syrian-born French Grandmaster who could hardly be a radical alternative to Arkady Dvorkovich, since he served as Dvorkovich’s Deputy President. Sure enough, he used his speech at the FIDE General Assembly in Chennai to announce that he was withdrawing his candidacy. You can watch the whole proceedings below.
The reasoning he gave was as follows:
My decision was not to campaign against the incumbent President Arkady Dvorkovich because he was Russian, and you can understand from my origin and philosophy that I hate racism totally, but to fight for FIDE because of the challenges FIDE was facing, many of which have been admitted by the president himself.
I realise that I do not have the necessary support for me to be elected as FIDE President. In the circumstances I have decided that I will withdraw my candidacy so that my presence will not affect the chances of the other candidates or tickets.
That left just one candidate representing an alternative to Dvorkovich, 31-year-old Ukrainian Grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets. He brought none of the campaign funding or connections within chess politics considered essential to challenge in such elections, but explained he felt compelled to stand when no-one else had.
With Magnus Carlsen coach Peter Heine Nielsen as his deputy, Andrii campaigned largely on one issue, the elephant in the room — whether it was acceptable to re-elect Arkady Dvorkovich in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Arkady Dvorkovich was a high-ranking Kremlin official for 10 years, serving as the Deputy Prime Minister in 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine. He served as deputy to Dmitry Medvedev, who was once considered the “liberal” alternative to Vladimir Putin, but since February 24 has made increasingly extreme statements. Andrii said in his speech in Chennai:
Dmitry Medvedev, on his Facebook, mentions literally that it is ok to invade Georgia and Kazakhstan. Is it normal? Is it something that we as a chess world need to think of? I think we don’t need to be associated with wars, we’re here to unite people. Chess unites people, but unfortunately it cannot be done with Arkady, and it’s not because of what Arkady says, it’s not #SayChess, you cannot say I cut all the ties and now I’m good. No, it’s your portfolio, it’s what you have done for many years. You, Arkady, are responsible for what happens in Ukraine now, you are responsible for building up the Russian government and the Russian war machine, and we as a chess world, how can we afford this? Why are we even talking about it?
These elections are about values, and it is definitely morally wrong to elect Arkady Dvorkovich as our president, not only is it morally wrong, but even practically it is wrong, because we cannot attract sponsors going forward.
While you could argue Dvorkovich left the Russian government in 2018, Peter Heine Nielsen in his speech focused on more recent facts, including that Dvorkovich remains on the Board of Trustees of the Russian Chess Federation, where he’s joined by a number of sanctioned individuals including Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu. Peter commented:
They are leaders of his country, they are even former colleagues, but to us they are killers, they are war criminals, internationally condemned by the vast majority of the world. Peskov is Putin’s spokesperson, Putin who gave the order for the invasion, and Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defence, carried out these orders.
The real danger to Arkady Dvorkovich, as to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov before him, was always sanctions, which could easily have affected him as a former high-ranking Russian official. He has featured on pre-sanctions lists, but he came closest to being sanctioned when the Skolkovo Foundation, of which he was the Chairman from 2018-2022, was sanctioned by the USA. As Peter Heine put it:
The reason for the sanctions were clear. During the last decade Skolkovo has actively been involved with the Russian military industry. According to the report, they have been developing materials for tanks, engines for helicopters, specialised material for aircraft wings and engines for ships. Skolkovo has helped in innovating the Russian army and right now we see how these innovations are being used to attack a neighbouring country, costing up to 100,000 lives, depending on estimates, making millions of people flee their homes, their country. Dvorkovich’s responsibility as head of Skolkovo for the last decade is undeniable, Dvorkovich’s responsibility as the head of Skolkovo with its ties to the Russian military is uncombinable with being the head of a global family.
Dvorkovich jumped ship in time when he left the Skolkovo Foundation in March, though it’s notable that Skolkovo said in its statement at the time that Dvorkovich would continue to work on related projects.
Arkady Dvorkovich has decided to terminate his duties as chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation and focus on the development of educational projects, including within the Big Skolkovo framework.
In fact leaving the post at Skolkovo may have been a slice of luck for Dvorkovich, since it was likely forced upon him. An interview regretting the war but not condemning the invasion in an American publication had seen Dvorkovich publicly castigated in Russia, and a statement by him on the Skolkovo website (subsequently wiped from the internet) talking about a peace “where there's no place for Nazism” — a parroting of Kremlin propaganda against Ukraine — may have been a desperate attempt to save his job.
It's likely that whatever Arkady’s personal beliefs his very public status and history leave him at the mercy of the Kremlin, who could choose if and when to apply pressure. Andrii Baryshpolets summed up:
It’s really disappointing that the good work that’s done within FIDE is used by political powers to promote Kremlin interests, to use FIDE as a sports-washing for the Russian regime. This should not be the case. People should not be ashamed to work in FIDE.
Dvorkovich, meanwhile, managed to plot a path to re-election. Partly all it took was the mental willingness to decide that his role in what had happened in Ukraine was no bar to standing for re-election. Then he pulled off a real coup, as on April 1st it was announced that 5-time World Champion Vishy Anand would stand as his deputy.
Vishy is universally admired in the chess world, and beyond, and Peter Heine Nielsen, who coached Vishy to four World Championships, said in Chennai, “Vishy Anand could be an excellent President of FIDE”.
Vishy will become President, at least for six months, if Dvorkovich is sanctioned in future, but for now Arkady commented of Vishy’s support:
He came at a time I needed support most, and I will never forget it.
Vishy talked of progress made in the last four years, and finished:
We have to be the voice of everyone. As the president said, nothing is too small, nobody’s too big, FIDE is the voice of everyone. We should work on women’s chess, federations all over the globe, chess players with disabilities, try to be as inclusive and grow the game. This is the role that I see for FIDE and this is the team that I joined.
Arkady gave a slickly prepared speech with a promotional video running alongside it, including soundbites such as:
Chess is all over the place, but still not in all places, chess is attractive to sponsors, but not enough, chess is in the media, but not as much as needed, chess is in schools, but not everywhere. Many success stories, some mistakes as well, of course, and things still to be done based on your feedback, on your criticism and new ideas.
Essentially he was campaigning on his record, and promising that funding wouldn’t dry up now that Russian sources of finance were excluded. Arkady did also directly address the Russian issue.
Yes, I am Russian and I have served people of my country including the Russian chess community as chairman of the board of the Russian Chess Federation. I have been trying to do so professionally and with the highest possible integrity, and I took a strong position on the tragic events in Ukraine as well as supporting the FIDE Council decisions regarding scaling down Russia’s involvement in FIDE, and I have no relation to Skolkovo or any other sanctioned bodies anymore.
The election was considered a formality, since federations tend to side with the expected winner to guarantee they get the benefits and avoid any potential punishment for picking the “wrong” candidate. The sheer numbers were a shock, however, with 157 votes against just 16. For comparison, in 2018 Dvorkovich won with 103 votes to Makropoulos’ 78.
Peter Svidler had summed up the election a month earlier for 64: A Chess Podcast, when asked about Baryshpolets/Nielsen's chances:
If they’re running against the “Machine”, they’re not beating the machine. If the other side decides out of the goodness of their heart, or for whatever other reason, “no, let the chips fall where they may”, then I think there is no particular reason why they can’t win. But this initial assumption is a very, very large one. You don’t see that happen very often, people just deciding to forego the advantages their position affords them because of some kind of an idealistic view of a fair fight or something. I’m guessing it happens sometimes, because everything happens sometimes, but the word multiverse I think comes to mind there. Maybe in some other universe this is something that happens regularly.
Any doubts as to whether Dvorkovich's win would be treated as a triumph for Russia were quickly dispelled, with Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov, a billionaire born in the same Ukrainian city as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, immediately commenting:
You might speculate that tactically it would have been better to allow Dvorkovich to win “unopposed”, but in that case it’s almost a certainty that one of the other candidates would have remained in the race, to keep up appearances.
Filatov has already publicly announced plans to use the General Assembly in Chennai to push a vote for readmitting Russian teams into international competitions.
It remains to be seen if chess will become even more of an outlier among international sporting bodies in its approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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