Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov speaks at the Asian Chess Summit | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation
The Russian Chess Federation is leaving Europe to become part of the Asian Chess Federation after 29 delegates voted in favour, with only 1 against and 6 abstentions, in today’s Asian Chess Summit in Abu Dhabi. The change, clearly motivated by the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been described as “scandalous” by European Chess Union Vice President Malcolm Pein.
We reported last week that the World Chess Federation (FIDE) had decided to make no objection to the Russian Chess Federation switching from its traditional home, the European Chess Union, to the Asian Chess Federation. In fact, FIDE set out how it would happen:
To rename Zone 1.6 (Russia) as Zone 3.8, as part of Asia, effective May 1, 2023, given that the Asian Chess Federation confirms it accepts the Chess Federation of Russia as a member in their General Assembly.
All that remained was for the Asian Chess Federation to vote on Russia’s application at the Asian Chess Summit in Abu Dhabi. No-one seemed to have any doubt that the application would be accepted, and we first heard of the result from the President of the Qatar Chess Federation, Mohamed Al-Mudahka.
It was soon confirmed by the Russian Chess Federation, who posted the outcome of the vote: 29 delegates in favour, 1 against, and 6 abstentions.
Billionaire Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov, born in the same Ukrainian city as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, commented:
Today a historic event has occurred: for the first time a chess federation, one of the strongest in the world, has switched from one continent to another. We’re grateful to the delegates of the Continental Assembly of the ACF that the majority voted to support our switch to the ACF. That speaks, on the one hand, about trust in us, and on the other, about the good work done by our federation.
I hope for a fruitful cooperation in future, for the participation of Russian teams in the Continental Championship, and for holding Asian events in Russia, which has frequently held tournaments of the very highest level and has all the necessary infrastructure.
Asia has already become a chess powerhouse, while in geographic terms Russia’s switch is justifiable, since 77% of Russia’s landmass is in Asia. On the other hand, 75% of the population lives in “European” Russia, and it’s clear the real reason for the change now is the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Chess Union has gone further than FIDE in condemning Russia’s invasion, pointing out the federation’s ties to the Kremlin, and in insisting that players at least make the free switch to the FIDE flag before playing in official European events.
Magnus Carlsen’s head coach Peter Heine Nielsen gave his instant reaction.
European Chess Union Vice President Malcolm Pein had given his verdict in advance in a debate with Peter, Berlin Chess Federation President Paul Meyer-Dunker and International Arbiter Shohreh Bayat to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
It’s scandalous that in an attempt to avoid the sanctions that have been rightfully placed upon the Russian Chess Federation by the European Chess Union they should try and run to Asia… It’s amazing how chess has always mirrored geopolitics, and you can see that Putin’s looking east for support, and it’s therefore quite logical, but still scandalous, that the federation wants to go to Asia where they think their players will be able to avoid the sanctions that they’re currently under.
It’s already been confirmed by the European Chess Union that players who were already enrolled in the European Championship that starts in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia in three days’ time will still be able to play — and potentially take one of the 23 spots available in the upcoming World Cup.
Players taking part were required to switch to the FIDE flag, with 43 players registered under that flag (which can also include Belarussian players). The players registered include those who have come out strongly against the war and left Russia, such as Alexey Sarana, but also those only switching flags for convenience, such as Mikhail Kobalia, who was one of the representives of Russia at the Asian Chess Summit.
Mikhail Kobalia spoke in favour of Russia's switch to Asia, but will play the European Championship | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russia Chess Federation
It appears there’s nothing to stop players competing in Serbia and then, later in the year, competing in the Asian Continental Championships in Kazakhstan, for which no dates have yet been set, according to FIDE’s calendar.
The question of World Cup places is an interesting one, with the regulations of the 2023 World Cup, to be held in August in Baku, Azerbaijan, allocating spaces based on the number of players in the World Top 60 in January 2022.
That balance of power is set to change, though not, one assumes, in time to alter the qualification system for this year’s event.
One unknown is how many Russian players will now take up FIDE’s offer to switch to another European chess federation, with all fees waived. The transfer fees and wait to be eligible to play again had been a difficult obstacle for top players to overcome, but it seems the procedure is still far from automatic and will not be an option for players choosing to remain in Russia.
Whatever happens now, it’s hard to argue with Malcolm Pein that chess continues to mirror geopolitics.