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Kalmyk Kalamity

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As linked to from ChessBase.com, the Russian newspaper Pravda ran a scathing attack on FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov today. (An unrelated tidbit here.) Few if any of the accusations are theoretical novelties. What is new is the coverage. As anyone following Kasparov's crusade against the Putin regime knows, every major media outlet in Russia is under Kremlin control these days. Pravda is almost as much of a state organ now as it was under Brezhnev. This bodes ill for Ilyumzhinov. Putin knows how to use the media to rally opinion before taking action. First the subject is vilified in the press, then the prosecutors move in. This is a choice (unsourced) quote.

"We don"t want holidays in poverty-stricken region. When you, participants of the chess championship, are enjoying yourselves with the concerts of the poverty-stricken performers and dinners in expensive restaurants, the majority of children in Kalmykia have no enough food. Poor Kalmykia cannot be donor and money-bag for FIDE!"

Not that I much doubt the veracity of the charges and the article has lots of quotes from the Kalmykian opposition. (The same folks who couldn't get a word published in the same papers when Ilyumzhinov was in favor in Moscow.) It's still worth pointing out that the article doesn't quote him at all. The stuff about making Kalmykia into a "second Chechnya" sounds like complete fantasy. That's just the sort of thing the Kremlin would whip up to excuse removing someone in a hurry and Ilyumzhinov isn't dumb enough to actually say something like that. It would be like the leaders of Iran saying "Hey Bush, we've got WMDs right here and we dare you to come and take them!" Either Putin is using this to fire a warning shot to keep Ilyumzhinov in line or the warnings are over.

It's long overdue to set up a sort of shadow government to prepare for Ilyumzhinov's exit from FIDE and the chess scene. Letting his lieutenants take over certainly wouldn't help. Who is out there setting up a reform ticket that could salvage some of the FIDE infrastructure? Does Seirawan have a day job? He even has rating list experience from when he set up the "active chess" list long, long ago.


"As anyone following Kasparov's crusade against the Putin regime knows, every major media outlet in Russia is under Kremlin control these days. Pravda is almost as much of a state organ now as it was under Brezhnev."

That is simply not true. Just off the top of my head, here are the two openly anti-Kremlin newspapers (to both of which I subscribe):

Moscow News http://www.mn.ru
Novaya Gazeta http://www.novayagazeta.ru

With the same success I can proclaim that CNN, FoxNews, NBC, ABC etc. are all controlled by...(fill the blank yourself or contact Valery Salov)

The problem is not this, however. To claim that Pravda newspaper influences Russian politics is like saying that Pisswater Daily influences politics in America. Pravda's main audience consists of toothless grandmas trying to make ends meet. It can not be under "tight Kremlin control" simply because no one reads it so that there is no point wasting time to exercise any kind of control. Hence Pravda can not be, as ChessBase claims with such authority,a "mainstream Russian news agency", nor can it be a "state organ".

One quote from ChessBase made me laugh very hard.
"The article on Ilyumzhinov was almost certainly inserted by the leadership of the Russian government, possibly as a precursor to taking action against the Kalmyk president"

It is reassuring to know that Chessbase has a deepthroat in the Russian government.

"This bodes ill for Ilyumzhinov. Putin knows how to use the media to rally opinion before taking action. First the subject is vilified in the press, then the prosecutors move in."

Hmmm, just trying to think of any examples, but can only come up with names of those who villified themselves by becoming billioners in the country where 80% of the population are on the brink of starvation.

One general remark. It is sad to see how both Daily Dirt and ChessBase are continiously using the political situation in Russia (of which they seem to understand very little , if anything) to serve political interests of one particular chessplayer with a very dubious (to say the least) record in Russian politics.

Best regards,


Don't change the subject. It's not whether Pravda is influential or not, it's whether that story represented the Kremlin's current state of mind regarding Ilyumzhinov. I say yes, or it wouldn't have been published. They don't influence, they announce. They are a state organ and therefore important to pay attention to. Same reason for watching Fox News in the US when there is a Republican administration.

I'm aware of both the Moscow News and the Gazeta and if you consider them major media outlets you really need to get out more. They are allowed to exist mostly because they aren't major. As we saw last week with Parfyonov, the moment someone gets out of line (with Putin, not the law) they are shown the door, or a prison cell.

Yes, rich people are bad. Except the rich people who stay close to Putin. Every government uses the media to float plans of action, to test public opinion, and to put pre-emptive spin on action they are already committed to taking. Or is Russia unique in not doing this? Just about every decision of significance made by the Kremlin in the past two years has been led by a form of media campaign. And if the Kremlin wants something out of the news, such as Chechnya, it simply disappears from TV.

So let's cut through all the misdirection. Do you think that story would have run in Pravda were Ilyumzhinov in fine standing with the Kremlin? Can you provide any examples of Pravda running such a heavy-handed attack piece on any political leader in the region who wasn't under pressure from the Kremlin?

As for serving interests, the article was about Pravda, Ilyumzhinov, and the likely implications. I'm sure we all welcome your enlightenment about the political situation in Russia, but you'll have to do better than laughing.

Dear Mig,

Unfortunately - like P_w_V - I cannot help but state that you have very rough and biased idea about the current state of Russian media. This claim can be best illustrated by some your factual misconceptions. For instance, you obviously do not even know that "Pravda.ru" is purely Internet newspaper which has no formal relation to traditional "Pravda" - moreover, being both left-wing they have significant ideological differences. What they have in common is that they both are in clear opposition to Putin and his government, and of course, neither "Pravda.ru" nor "Pravda" (which did not publish that Ilyumzhinov's story) is "a state organ" (they are not even "organ" of the Communist Party!). So, no "implications" are expected. By the way, you also confuse "Novaya Gazeta" and "Gazeta" (not saying there is also "Gazeta.ru")...

Then, you are mistaken in thinking that all the major Russian newspapers are heavily controlled by Putin&co. This is true regarding major TV channels (your formula "They don't influence, they announce" can be applied to them) but for the time being newspapers (not saying about Internet) are enjoying quite a high level of freedom. Freedom is not a problem - the real problem is that Kremlin just does not listen what papers are saying about its politics, corruption, etc.

There are some loyal to the government papers and there are papers (actually, a lot of them - not saying about some popular Internet resources) in clear opposition - for instance, such major and influential ones as "Commersant" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta (Independent)" owned by exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. By the way, contrary to your views "The Moscow News" (edited by Kasparov's friend Evgeny Kiselev known as a leading political TV presenter) is without doubt considered as a major media outlet in Russia. The same is true regarding "the Novaya Gazeta". Moreover, even relatively loyal to Putin papers like "Izvestia" (the most famous brand!) routinely publish very critical stuff with "heavy-handed attack piece on any political leaders" including some Putin's closest cronies. This is really not a big deal, believe me. As to Ilyumzhinov, he had been torn to pieces many times in different papers but he obviously has his very influential "friends" that allow him to survive. So your suggestion that either the story represents "the Kremlin's current state of mind" or "it wouldn't have been published" is really strange for anybody who reads Russian press.

Of course, one can suppose that Kremlin's apparatchics can arrange in some papers a severe attack at Ilyumzhinov (if they want) using informal levers (money, threats, etc.). But this remains to be a pure conspiracy that has nothing to do with the press freedom, and you do not have any substantiated sources to claim that. It is very sad that such a normally very informed person as you (with a lot of Russian friends who can consult you!) has very unrealistic views on Russian current affairs (which are not rosy, of course).



Thanks for the info, Valchess. Nice to get an opinion from someone who can do it without trying so hard to offend. Firstly, my views are not generated spontaneously from the air. Apart from Kasparov, who has his own views and agenda as we all know, I talk to and work with many Russians in and outside of Russia, much of it specifically related to the Russian media. Plus, I now live in Brooklyn and half of the papers around here are Russian! But I definitely overstated the case.

My intent was not to turn this into a debate on Russian politics. I know there are many sources, especially online, that are not loyal to the Kremlin, particularly Novaya Gazeta, which I have been going through a lot lately for work related to Chechnya. All that said, I still find it very telling that out of nowhere there are comments about Kalmykia becoming "a second Chechnya" (really a shocking thing to say) and opposition that previously was not covered appeared on the front page. If you say that there is no possible political connection, okay.

Here's a handy page: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3562425.stm


Being a leading chess writer you are doomed to be interested in Russian politics - just because Ilyumzhinov and Kasparov are related to it at many levels. You have been to Russia, you know personally a lot of Russians, you obviosly read a lot about Russia - so the interesting question: why on earth you have such clearly unrealistic (not to say - ridiculous - as your speculations about "Pravda"'s powers show) picture of Russian affairs? Perhaps, your sources are fragmentory, ideologically one-sided and biased. For instance, "Novaya Gazeta" is an interesting paper but it is extremely biased (and not renowned for always telling truth). I do not know about Russian papers available (and published?) in Brooklyn but I do know that Russian emigre press is not a reliable source about modern Russia.

The BBC'c material you referenced to is too brief and superficial. I am not sure that you have time and desire but to make a realistic picture of Russia you need to read Russian press on a regular basis. There are quite a lot of sources in English, just to give you a flavour:


Many more can be found. The general rule: no single source is reliable! And please - consult your friends in Moscow before writing about some specific Russian-based politically-related pieces - this can help in avoiding embarassing situations.


Thanks. I read Mosnews and the Moscow Times and know people who work on both of them. I even know the owners and editors of several Russian publications...

My original speculation was that a story with the incredible headline "President of Kalmyk autonomous republic Kirsan Ilyumdzhinov is telling the Kremlin that if Moscow dismisses him, there will be the second Chechnya in Kalmykia" very likely symbolized the government's opinion of Ilyumzhinov in some way. If this isn't the case (we don't know), nor is it an outrageous suggestion. I hadn't meant to slander every Russian news source in the process, however.

Sorry for this unnecessary discussion - perhaps I should have stopped after my first posting. Let me say in conclusion: actually, my point was not concerned with your speculations about Ilyumdzhinov's fate. What was important for me - as for your long-standing reader - is that those your speculations were based on numerous factual misconceptions, some of which of quite general nature. As far as I understand from your replies this unfortunate fact does not bother you very much. Which - in my humble opinion - is a pity.



Gentlemen, leaving aside the interesting discussion of Russian news media, I wonder if Ilyumzhinov has not been getting a bum rap from chess players.

The characterizations of him that I have seen run the gamut from silly buffoon, to meddling interloper, to hijacker of the 64 squares and sinister corrupting force. Which I used to accept sight unseen, almost, since he gets such a bad treatment in the chess press.

However, his autobiography, which is available as a PDF file on the fide.com website, gave me a different insight into the man. One, it does not at all read as though cobbled together by some hack ghostwriter at the behest of an autocratic Milosevic-type strongman. I found it quite spellbinding reading, actually.

I did not know that Kalmyks are the westernmost Mongolians, that their predominant religion is Buddhism (on the Volga, of all places), that they had been deported to Siberia by Stalin, in the process of which half the Kalmyks perished, before being allowed to return.

Seems to me that Kalmykia is perched rather precariously between the crushing embrace of Mother Russia and neighboring republics with restive Muslim populations. Ilyumzhinov strikes me as a patriot who is up against immense odds in keeping his people secure and independent. His descriptions of being in the thick of things during the putsch attempt against Yeltsin in Moscow make for riveting reading.

Let's face it, if it wasn't for his presidency of FIDE, none of us would have heard of Kalmykia or give a damn about them. I used to think that Ily. was just an obnoxious publicity hound, getting himself photographed at any and every FIDE-sponsored event. Well, he probably is a vain person. But it is also possible that he was desperate for some way to get his country in the public eye and gain some sympathy for the Kalmyks. The money he has been sinking into FIDE could be a cost-effective way of doing that.

In addition, the love he professes for chess strikes me as genuine.

Okay, call me gullible if you want, but sometimes the carping, though much of it justified, strikes me as a bit parochial.

Even if all these great things about him are true, how has any of it helped the Kalmykian people? Hungry people don't care if you know where they live, or even if you know they are hungry. Putting Kalmykia on the map has been done at the cost of millions of dollars that most likely would have gone to the country instead of chess prizes and things like Chess City. We turn a blind eye because we are chess people, but if his hobby was butterfly collecting or badminton, it would be just as bad.

I try just to focus on what he has meant for chess as Pres. of FIDE, and how his fortunes in govt. may affect chess. Overall I think he has been a negative influence on the game since 1996.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 12, 2004 12:34 AM.

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