Russia's top chess players and, it appears, its chess federation, have appealed directly to President Vladimir Putin to stop the war as the game reels from the fall-out of the invasion of Ukraine.
In an open letter published today, a list of highly-decorated players that reads like a who's who of Russian chess, said it is "unbearably painful for us to see the catastrophe that is happening".
The letter, published on championat.ru, was retweeted by the Russian Chess Federation's Twitter account without comment and also by the game's world governing body, FIDE. It is not clear whether the RCF's official position is anti-war or this was a rebellious act within the organisation. A number of the signatories work for the RCF.
Chess is one of the few areas of world sport where Russia takes a leading role, and the Honorary Board of Trustees of the RCF features some of the most important figures in the Russian government. They're gradually being added to sanctions lists.
For instance, Sergey Sobyanin, the Mayor of Moscow, became the 9th member out of 18 to be banned from Europe over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Other names are even more remarkable.
Among the 32 signatories to the petition were some of Russia's best players. National number 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi, Women's World Rapid Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, Daniil Dubov, Peter Svidler, Andrey Esipenko, Alexander Khalifman, Valentina Gunina, Alina Kashlinskaya and Polina Shuvalova, all supported it.
Also included were Maxim Matlakov, Kirill Alekseenko, Evgeniy Najer, Alexander Motylev and Pavel Tregubov.
The letter states:
We oppose military actions on the territory of Ukraine and call for an early ceasefire and a peaceful solution to the conflict through dialogue and diplomatic negotiations. It is unbearably painful for us to see the catastrophe that is happening these days to our peoples.
We have always played for Russia in individual and, with particular pride, in team competitions. We believe that chess, like sports in general, should bring people together. The most difficult and prestigious international tournaments were held in our country at the highest level even in the midst of a pandemic.
Chess teaches responsibility for one's actions; every step counts, and a mistake can lead to a fatal point of no return. And if this has always been about sports, now people's lives, basic rights and freedoms, human dignity, the present and future of our countries are at stake.
In these tragic days, we think of all the people who found themselves in the center of this terrible conflict. We share the pain with our Ukrainian colleagues and call for peace.
The Ukrainian chess team is the reigning European champion, one of the best teams in the world along with ours. We played dozens of matches and hundreds of games. We have always put wrestling above politics - and the Ukrainians responded to us in return. We ask you to give teams, players and ordinary people from both countries a chance for mutual respect.
We are for peace. Stop the war!
Not included, for understandable reasons, were the five Russian players playing in the FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade. Among them Alexander Grischuk, Nikita Vitiugov and Dmitry Andreikin had already expressed their dismay at Russian aggression in Ukraine.
However, not all Russian chess luminaries are against the war. The 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov, now a member of Russia's Duma parliament, has been sanctioned by the EU after voting for measures that paved the way for the invasion.
Sergey Karjakin, the former world title challenger, has also vociferously expressed his support for the war on social media.
Karjakin has been cited by FIDE under its Code of Ethics and faces a disciplinary hearing which could cost him his place in the next Candidates Tournament.
Yesterday, it got worse for the 32-year-old, as chess24 revealed he is being shunned by major chess tournaments.
FIDE has already banned Russia from hosting official FIDE events, stripped it of the Chess Olympiad and stopped its players and national team competing under the Russian flag.
FIDE also revealed it had been forced to postpone the World Team Championship in Israel until November. Similarly, FIDE said today that the World School Online Chess Cup 2022 has been postponed until further notice.
The federation also removed two of its Russian companies, Gazprom and Russian Railways, from its list of partners. Mining firm Norilsk Nickel and fertilizer giant PhosAgro remain.
Yet while Russian players have made their feelings clear, pressure is also growing on FIDE to implement harsher penalties and follow the example of other sports. Earlier today, athletes from Russia and Belarus were told they will not be allowed to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.
The Ukraine Chess Federation's President Viktor Kapustin is calling on FIDE to do the same. In a powerful statement on its Facebook page he went even further calling on the European Chess Union to demand the resignation of FIDE's Russian president Arkady Dvorkovich.
Kapustin said FIDE's actions were "hypocritical, false and ridiculous, inconsistent" and added that the decisions made by its ruling council were "clearly dictated by Kremlin curators to reduce the inevitable punishment to the formal declarations".
He called on the ECU to approve the following statement:
The European Chess Union considers the measures taken by FIDE against Russia at its meeting on February 27 to be hypocritical, false and ridiculous, inconsistent with the historical sharpness of the moment and clearly dictated by Kremlin curators to reduce the inevitable punishment to the formal declarations.
We believe that by moral and all human standards, Fide's continued leadership of Dvorkovich, a long time henchman of the bloody dictator Putin, is a mockery of common sense and a mockery of the suffering and death [caused by] the Russian occupiers.
We demand the immediate and unconditional resignation of Dvorkovich from the post of FIDE President. Otherwise, the ECU will be ready to consider leaving FIDE and functioning as a separate international chess structure. We don't want to have anything to do with people who have blood on their hands.
We demand immediate consideration of the issue of excluding the Russian Chess Federation from FIDE, a complete ban on the participation of all Russian chess players without exception in all tournaments held under FIDE.
After the resignation of Arkady Dvorkovich and all citizens of Russia and Belarus from all FIDE structures to convene the General Assembly to elect new FIDE governing bodies and determine the principles of further work.
We call on chess federations around the world to support these demands, and the ECU to adopt them at the next meeting.
It is understood the ECU meets today to discuss the issue.
The president of the Polish Chess Federation Radosław Jedynak also laid into FIDE, saying its actions were "unacceptable" and the ban on Russia should extend to its players.
FIDE, after its initial assurances, didn’t decide on real sanctions like the main international federations, including FIFA, which absolutely excluded Russia from qualification for the World Cup in Qatar.
The possibility of playing under the flag of the Russian Chess Federation or FIDE is in no way a satisfactory measure (imagine if Russia tried to play in the qualifiers under the logo of the football federation!).
Teams (including Poland) refused to play against Russia during the planned World Team Championship in April in Israel. Instead of excluding from the sport countries led by war criminals they simply postponed the dates until “things quietened down”. That’s unacceptable.
A series of other chess federations, including those in Austria, England and the US, have also condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine and offered to help Ukrainian chess players.
Today, there was also sad news. After several Ukrainian chess players posted pictures online of them taking up arms to defend their country, the first death of a chess player was reported.
FIDE arbiter and children's coach Aleksey Druzhinets reportedly suffered fatal injuries in Tokmak, Ukraine. His death was confirmed by the Ukrainian Chess Federation.
In an interview posted this morning, the former Ukrainian Champion and Chessable author Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko described how he fled the war-torn country with his young family.
The full list of signatories to the letter includes a host of grandmasters, international masters, chess journalists, organisers and commentators. Here are the remaining names:
Igor Lysy, Dmitry Kryakvin, Maxim Chigaev, Vladimir Barsky, Mark Glukhovsky, Maxim Notkin, Maxim Chigaev, Anastasia Chigaeva, Olga Badelko, Pavel Ponkratov, Alexander Shimanov, Daniil Yuffa, Konstantin Mesropov, Svetlana Ershova, Evgeny Egorov, Anna Volkova, Eteri Kublashvili, Yana Sidorchuk, Anna Burtasova, Denis Grigoriev, Ilya Gorodetsky and Oleg Pervakov.
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