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”.
A total of 157 out of 179 national chess associations voted in India for Arkady Dvorkovich as president, while Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets won just 16 votes, the federation said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov called it “clearly very good news and a very significant victory”, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
A number of Russian officials have been hit with sanctions since the invasion of Ukraine in February, and Russian competitors 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.
Baryshpolets had said before the vote at the FIDE general assembly in Chennai — held alongside the Chess Olympiad where Russian, Belarussian and Chinese players were absent — that Dvorkovich has “tremendous ties to the Russian government”.
“You Arkady are responsible for what happened in Ukraine now. You are responsible for building up the Russian government and Russia’s war machine. And we as a chess world, how can we afford this?” said the Ukrainian.
The 31-year-old was backed by Peter Heine Nielsen of Denmark, coach of Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen.
But Dvorkovich said that he took “a strong position (on the) tragic events in Ukraine” and that he had backed the scaling down of Russian involvement in FIDE.
In March, Dvorkovich appeared to criticise the Russian invasion, saying in an interview that his “thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians”.
“Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections,” Dvorkovich told US news site Mother Jones.
The comments drew flak in Russia and Dvorkovich later seemed to row back, saying there was “no place for Nazism or the domination of some countries over others”.
This was seen as coded support for the Kremlin, which portrays Ukraine as being run by Nazis and accuses Western countries of seeking to take over Russia’s neighbour by stealth.
Russia has exercised enormous influence in chess since Soviet times, when the game was one of a number of areas of confrontation between the communist bloc and the West.
Before Dvorkovich took over, FIDE was headed for more than two decades by eccentric Russian politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who claimed to have encountered aliens.
Dvorkovich has won praise as an able administrator, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and for tough decisions after Russia was banned from international forums over the war in Ukraine.
Dvorkovich roped in five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India -– one of the biggest names in the sport — as his running mate in the FIDE election.
“We are running on the solid record and the achievements of the last four years by Dvorkovich and his team,” Anand told AFP in an interview in July.
“The president’s decisions have clearly demonstrated that he is independent of Kremlin influence. On top of that… (FIDE) have developed ties with multiple sponsors and countries and have managed to hold most FIDE events like the World Championship… outside of Russia.”
FIDE said in a statement that Dvorkovich’s “landslide election 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 Baryshpolets’s Twitter campaign team “Fight for Chess”.