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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ilyumzhinov Plays Dirty in Moscow

On May 14, the Supervisory Council of the Russian Chess Federation attempted to hold a meeting in Moscow. Things had already gotten weird, with Council president Arkady Dvorkovich, also an aide to Russian president Medvedev, coming out in advance for Ilyumzhinov. So far in advance, in fact, that he announced on his own three weeks earlier that the RCF was nominating Ilyumzhinov. He did this after "talking to several Council members on the phone" and writing a letter of nomination that didn't have the signature of Alexander Bakh, the only person in the RCF empowered to sign things.

Karpov protested and Dvorkovich backed down somewhat and both sides girded for the May 14 meeting in Moscow. Things got a little wild even before the meeting. Dvorkovich caught wind that Karpov may have lined up a vote and enough votes to gain the nomination. So he announced a postponement of the meeting, which was ignored by Karpov supporters since they knew the only reason for a postponement was to avoid a vote. Dvorkovich then tried to move the meeting to a new location, one under his control, suggesting his own office or the offices at a bank owned by one of Ilyumzhinov's supporters. When all that failed, Dvorkovich and other Ilyumzhinov supporters on the Council boycotted the meeting, where the now-famous vote took place with 17 of the 32 Council members staying and voting for Karpov. (Council members are elected from all over Russia.)

Dvorkovich and Ilyumzhinov immediately attacked from just about every angle. The vote was invalid because A) Dvorkovich already nominated Ilyumzhinov himself or B) Dvorkovich didn't attend the meeting so the meeting didn't count or C) the meeting was supposed to take place at Dvorkovich's offices (Ilyumzhinov actually wrote this in his letter of protest but it was pointed out that the original announcement -- with the location as the Chess Club -- was still up on the RCF website. Oops. Though my favorite part of the letter is when he made fun of the delegates for voting with a show of hands. Yes, Kirsan, that is what democracy looks like. Scary, isn't it!) or D) the recent (February) reformulation of the RCF's structure and statutes had not been registered with the government agency that manages federations and other NGOs, so the RCF didn't really exist and the entire vote was a dream sequence.

Remarkably, it's D they seem to have settled on now, which makes you wonder what exactly Dvorkovich was planning to do at the meeting before he tried to cancel it. If none of the decisions the organization takes are binding, what were they doing there? And the NGO registry is about tax and banking status, not about internal affairs of the federation, so who cares? In an impressive attempt to thread this needle, Dvorkovich is now saying that since he (along with Council Chairman Alexander Bakh) was appointed to his position by the Congress, his position and authority are real despite the lack of registration with the feds. Unfortunately, Dvorkovich's post was not given the authority to sign papers for the RCF, Bakh's was, and Bakh supports Karpov. (Though, and this is important, Bakh didn't try to nominate Karpov unilaterally, instead holding an open vote.)

When Karpov won the May 14 vote I wasn't surprised. What surprised me is that it happened at all. Most readers know my day job with Kasparov is largely dedicated to The Other Russia and related pro-democracy initiatives in Russia, so I'm intimately familiar with the way state power is flexed there, although I am safe in Brooklyn instead of marching in the streets or having my offices raided on a monthly basis, for which I am very grateful. And with Dvorkovich being a presidential aide, and not a disposable one -- he is in charge of the Skolkovo "innovation center," the Kremlin's comically doomed attempt to create an artificial Silicon Valley near Moscow -- I figured that if Dvorkovich were worried the building would be locked down and the delegates dispersed, or threatened and then dispersed.

When that didn't happen, I took it as another sign that Ilyumzhinov's shield of political protection in Russia wasn't what it used to be. The other signs were how Ilyumzhinov's tales of an alien encounter hit the Russian press and then were even brought up in the Russian Duma. The rumblings in the Russian chess countryside were also getting some traction and there were actually more than 17 Karpov supporters on the Council, though a few decided it was too risky to show up. (Note that some of the most politically vulnerable Council members, from Moscow and St. Petersburg, bailed. Many of the votes came from areas most distant from the center, where there is typically less fear of Moscow.)

But it turns out Dvorkovich hadn't really left old methods behind, he was just slow to put them into action. As detailed in Gazeta.ru, with excerpts and more up in English on Chessbase here, Dvorkovich sent in a private security team to secure the Chess Club, kick Bakh out, and also shut everyone else out of the RCF website and bank accounts. This, we recall, by someone who doesn't have the authority to sign papers on behalf of the RCF and whose chosen candidate just lost a vote. This lack of signing authority is mostly because he is a government official. After several scandals and, later, poor performance by Russia at the Winter Games in Vancouver, Medvedev called for officials to stop meddling in sports federations. Dvorkovich was appointed RCF president because his father was a famous Soviet/Russian chess figure, but old hand Bakh was put on watch with signing powers so they weren't giving authority to a Medvedev aide.

Dvorkovich's brute force tactics are tragic on several levels. The story has hit the news and the blogs in Russia, disappointing many who are still holding out a tiny bit of optimism for liberalization from Medvedev -- and especially a young minister like Dvorkovich who is supposed to be beyond the Putin/siloviki mentality. On a more immediate level for us here in chessland, it indicates how deeply Ilyumzhinov must have dug himself and many others into things they can't afford to let go. Otherwise it's very hard to imagine someone of Dvorkovich's position allowing himself to get dragged into this with a fringe figure like Ilyumzhinov. That is, things with nothing to do with chess. But we have enough scary stuff going on without getting into their motivations.

Now we have Dvorkovich sending out letters to federations saying Karpov wasn't nominated by Russia (see reasons A-D above, plus a few more tossed in, including actually accusing Karpov of corrupt motivations). Karpov won the vote, Dvorkovich has the force of arms, and both have mailing lists and plenty of time. Dvorkovich surely has the levers to manufacture just about any result he wants now that he has cracked down hard. He could have a friendly judge declare the vote for Karpov invalid or probably create an entirely new RCF council and appoint his horse and dog to it, or simply declare that his original nomination of Karpov is the law of the land. Dvorkovich is basically saying he is the RCF. Ilyumzhinov will obviously support him. Will FIDE's member federations believe them? Or believe the video of the May 14 vote? It seems like an ideal opportunity to remind federations that this sort of thuggery is exactly the sort of behavior we would like to see cleaned up, and that they have a chance to strike a blow for this in September. And while I'm not nominating Karpov for sainthood, he did get the 17 votes and he's not going to send the MiB to roust you.

It's all quite depressing. Ilyumzhinov will try to keep Karpov off the ballot or try to force him to run from France or Germany. Ilyumzhinov will claim forever that he has the Russian nomination. What is the procedure to deal with a rogue FIDE president, by the way?

Source : Daily Dirt

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