In the previous part of the research, we focused on the history of the formation of the Russian Chess Federation and the “celebrity” figure, former Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin. Now, our attention turns to the current activities of this “grandmaster,” who actively supports Kremlin’s interests, and the question of whether russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in the 2024 Olympic Games scheduled in Paris.
It is known that in February 2023, the Russian Chess Federation officially switched from the European Chess Union to the Asian Chess Federation. Several factors preceded this decision. With the onset of the full-scale invasion of the aggressor country into Ukrainian territory, the International Chess Federation and the European Chess Union suspended russian national teams from all team competitions under their auspices. Moreover, a series of sanctions were imposed on the aggressor in connection with this situation. As a result, russia began the process of transitioning, changing its membership from European to Asian.
This decision was unequivocally supported by the betrayer of Ukraine, Sergey Karjakin, a staunch supporter of putin. He criminally claimed that it is supposedly the “perfect opportunity” because “one must understand that now Indians, Chinese, and other representatives of Asia are objectively strong and dangerous competitors. The competition will increase.” Thus, Karjakin does not acknowledge the fact that the forced transition to the Asian Chess Federation is not based on increased competition among athletes; rather, it is connected to Russia’s aggressive politics and individuals supporting this regime. According to the turncoat ex-Ukrainian, Asia is the only region that will “provide confidence in tomorrow.” However, the “grandmaster” objectively assesses his chances as not high, stating: “Competing under their flag is absurd. I want to compete under the russian flag. Yes, I’ll add that there are unofficial tournaments, but I think the path to Europe for the coming years is closed for me. Unfortunately, in Europe, they have a negative attitude towards those who support their own country. I mean, those who support russia, even though I’ve been playing there for decades. I don’t think they will invite me there anytime soon.”
Let’s remind, Karjakin is a native of the occupied Simferopol, who competed under the flag of Ukraine until 2009. Soon after, the former Ukrainian betrayed his homeland and switched to a russian passport. Since 2014, he has been actively voicing support for the war, particularly the occupation of Crimea. On March 21, 2023, Sergey Karjakin was suspended from participating in FIDE-sanctioned tournaments for six months due to his active support for the war in Ukraine, which damaged the reputation of chess.
In April 2023, Karjakin made an unconventional statement about the General Director of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Emil Sutovsky, essentially calling him a ‘militant Russophobe’: «His position is absolutely evident: he is a hardcore Russophobe. Emil Sutovsky’s words are nothing but manipulation and do not represent my political stance. He bears personal animosity towards me. This has been going on since 2014 when I supported the Crimea issue. Back then, I heard a lot of filth and rudeness from him. As a Crimean, I have every right to express my position regarding Crimea. And what he is saying now is a logical continuation of this history».
Emil Sutovsky’s reaction didn’t take long to come, and the General Director of the International Chess Federation expressed his opinion on Karjakin’s “activities”: “Sergey has decided to pursue a political career. And it all began back in 2014 when he consciously politicized his stance on current events. One can disagree with the actions of a government of any country, but accusing me of being a Russophobe is very strange. Disapproval of a government’s actions does not mean hating the country itself. Karjakin, on the other hand, poses as a patriot, knowing nothing about Russian history, culture, or literature. It is a great misfortune when such people start speaking on behalf of Russia. Of course, I have no Russophobia whatsoever.”
The chairman of the Russian Chess Federation (RCF), Ilya Levitov, also expressed his opinion about the betrayer of Ukraine, commenting on Karjakin’s statements that have negative consequences for his colleagues and, as a result, prevent them from competing under their country’s flag.
Ilya Levitov stated, “I understand that you may have a ‘position,’ but you shouldn’t expose other chess players with your statements. And Sergey does this regularly. Karjakin’s activities outside of chess are so insignificant that talking about them is uninteresting. Who is he – the head of the federation in the Moscow region? If he considers that to be his level, fine. In my opinion, Sergey is precisely proof that people are wrong when they say that chess players are intelligent individuals. Chess players know how to play chess well, and nothing more.”
The relationship between Sergey and his coach Alexander Motylev did not work out either. Moreover, after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Motylev changed his sports citizenship to Romanian. Due to their different “political views,” their paths diverged. Alexander condemned Russia’s aggressive policy towards Ukraine, while Karjakin continues to “follow his choice,” to “follow russia.” According to the former Ukrainian, “He [Alexander Motylev] initiated the cessation of communication with me. Besides, he signed a letter against the ‘special military operation.’ It’s his choice, his position, his decision.” Karjakin also commented that Motylev’s departure “will be a loss for russian chess.”
On May 30, Karjakin received an invitation from the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to participate in the World Cup in Baku, which will take place from July 29 to August 26. However, due to his “principled stance,” he was forced to decline, commenting: “Will I play? No, I won’t play. It’s clear that the decision is difficult, and there is no perfect solution in this situation, and there cannot be one. Each decision has its pros and cons. But there are certain principles that I’m not willing to compromise. Even though the World Cup is quite a significant competition for me, as I was the winner in Baku, where the current tournament will take place… But they won’t let me compete under my flag… The option would be to agree to play under the FIDE flag. Well, firstly, they disqualified me before this. And playing under the FIDE flag is at least strange, and at most, humiliating. If I abstract from it, the question is fundamental for me. I will not play under any flag other than the Russian one.”
Karjakin continued to adhere to the rhetoric of a “valiant patriot,” and recently, he participated in propagandistic videos of the aggressor, calling for illegal and avid support for the armed forces of Russia, including his visit to the frontlines and playing chess with the occupiers. Journalists from “Insidethegames” asked FIDE, led by former russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, to comment on the video featuring Karjakin, but they did not receive an official response, which was perhaps expected.
On May 30, Karjakin received an invitation from the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to participate in the World Cup in Baku, which will take place from July 29 to August 26. However, due to his “principled stance,” he was forced to decline, commenting: “Will I play? No, I won’t play. It’s clear that the decision is difficult, and there is no perfect solution in this situation, and there cannot be one. Each decision has its pros and cons. But there are certain principles that I’m not willing to compromise. Even though the World Cup is quite a significant competition for me, as I was the winner in Baku, where the current tournament will take place… But they won’t let me compete under my flag… The option would be to agree to play under the FIDE flag. Well, firstly, they disqualified me before this. And playing under the FIDE flag is at least strange, and at most, humiliating. If I abstract from it, the question is fundamental for me. I will not play under any flag other than the russian one.”
Karjakin continued to adhere to the rhetoric of a “valiant patriot,” and recently, he participated in propagandistic videos of the aggressor, calling for illegal and avid support for the armed forces of russia, including his visit to the frontlines and playing chess with the occupiers. Journalists from “Insidethegames” asked FIDE, led by former russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, to comment on the video featuring Karjakin, but they did not receive an official response, which was perhaps expected.
“IOC Changes Course: How Neutral Status Opens the Path to the International Arena for Russians and Belarusians”
A year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has shown a clear desire to reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions. Interestingly, the IOC had previously recommended suspending athletes from these countries. However, on March 28, 2023, the committee changed its position and recognized such a return as a “good solution.” IOC President Thomas Bach stated that the organization has adopted new recommendations for federations, such as competing under a neutral status, and other measures concerning athletes from aggressor countries. Nevertheless, the issue of Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation in the 2024 Olympic Games has not been discussed yet and remains an open topic. The return of these athletes has sparked lively interest and discussions within the sports community.
By the way, Vadym Hutsait, the Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine and President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), presented a well-founded position to the IOC, explaining why such a decision should not have been made: “The IOC’s decisions and recommendations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions were logical and entirely justifiable. Unfortunately, nothing has changed over this year. 262 Ukrainian athletes and coaches were killed, and approximately 40,000 athletes had to leave the country among 7 million refugees. About 350 sports facilities have been significantly destroyed or damaged…”
Vadym Hutsait added: “Can I ask, is there any other country in the world that has violated the Olympic truce three times in a row (in 2008, 2014, and 2022) by unleashing unprovoked wars? None, except for Russia and Belarus. Did any National Olympic Committee in the world support wars that started in peacetime? None, except for the Russian, Belarusian, and possibly Nazi Germany. Are there as many sergeants, lieutenants, and majors from the Armed Forces in any other Olympic team, including one like Yelena Isinbaeva, who was nominated and elected as an IOC member? Nowhere else but in Russia. The real Russian and Belarusian Olympians, who fled the country and spoke out against the war, are true devotees of the Olympic Charter. What will be their fate, President Bach?”
Many Western politicians, including Nancy Fraser, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Germany, criticized the compromise proposed by the IOC, calling it a “slap in the face to Ukrainian athletes.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressed his views on Twitter: “The decision of the IOC to reinstate Russian athletes in competitions has caused a scandal and is seen as a betrayal of the true spirit of sports. I have instructed the Minister of Sport to convey our strong objections to the IOC leadership. We will take all necessary steps to keep sports free from Russia’s influence.”
However, the Russian Olympic Committee itself did not appreciate this decision and stated: “Neutral status is evident discrimination based on nationality, a violation of basic human and citizen rights… It deprives at least 30% of our Olympic team representatives of the opportunity to participate in qualifying competitions without any legal grounds. Such an approach contradicts the Olympic Charter, the UN Charter, humanitarian, civil, and any universally accepted norms.”
During the 140th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in late June 2023, its President, Thomas Bach, spoke and shared information about the complex situation regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the 2024 Olympic Games. He indicated that there are certain issues and limitations that need to be resolved before a final decision can be made on the participation of these countries in the next Olympic event: “The russian side wants us to ignore the war, the Ukrainian side wants us to isolate everyone with Russian and Belarusian passports. Any position is diametrically opposed to our position. Our response is transparent. Our values are our compass… The decision will not be easy, but in politics, it cannot be otherwise. Only the naive believe it is. The IOC finds itself in a situation between two warring parties.”
Fervent “neutral situation” “Mr. Bach” stated that he and purportedly French President Emmanuel Macron reached an agreement on cooperation regarding the participation of russian and Belarusian athletes in the Olympic Games in Paris: “Two weeks ago, I met with Macron, and we agreed to cooperate, including the issue of admitting Russians and Belarusians, but exclusively under neutral status.” Thomas Bach explained that the meeting with Mr. Macron took place during the G7 summit, where representatives of the seven countries expressed a unanimous opinion that Russian and Belarusian athletes cannot be represented in the Olympics as official representatives of their countries under any circumstances.
At the same time, the IOC expressed condemnation of the reaction of European governments regarding the admission of russian athletes to the global arena: “It is regrettable to see that some governments do not want to respect the majority in the Olympic movement or the autonomy of sports, which they demand from other countries and praise in countless speeches and resolutions of the UN and the European Union.”
The position of the head of the IOC seems understandable, considering his “friendship” with putin. As early as the summer of 2016, the German magazine Bild published an article entitled “Putin’s Poodle” about Thomas Bach and a joint photo of the russian President and the head of the IOC. The article noted that even after the confirmation of mass doping by Russian athletes in 2015, Thomas Bach continued to support russia and had a positive experience of cooperation with putin.
“Friendship” is one thing, but lifting restrictions against russians and Belarusians may create the impression that their military crimes against Ukraine receive official legitimization. Each such step can lead to the illusion that the war is over, although it is still ongoing russian and Belarusian forces continue to commit killings and violence against Ukrainians and destroy cities. In light of this, any concessions towards Russia and Belarus should be considered with particular caution, as they may support and sanction actions that violate international law and peace in the region. Russia continues to actively use sports as a means to promote its aggressive policies, and chess is no exception. russian athletes openly support the war against Ukraine: they participate in propagandistic events, give speeches justifying Russia’s armed aggression, and even receive military titles. As we can see, for russia, sports are related to the war, and the IOC continues to “turn a blind eye” to it successfully and fruitfully.
Сorrespondent of the ARC, Elish Fourier