Thursday, April 07, 2016

Sergey Karjakin: Putin's challenger for the world chess title

Like all sports, chess has a way of mirroring the conflicts in wider society.

The Fischer vs Spassky match of 1972 was a wonderful metaphor for the Cold War, even if the gentlemanly, quietly dissident Boris Spassky was never a cypher for the Soviet Union.

In the 1980s the volatile Garry Kasparov was a perfect symbol of glasnost and perestroika against the model Soviet citizen Anatoly Karpov.

"We already have a world champion: we don't need another one," the young Kasparov was once told by the authorities.

Now Segey Karjakin's qualification to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world title brings another conflict into the limelight.

Because Karjakin was born in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, in 1990 and represented Ukraine until he was poached to play for Russia. In July 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev made Karjakin a Russian citizen by decree.

Which makes him a sort of chess-playing Zola Budd.

Since then, as Radio Free Europe shows, he has become a born again Russian:
From his adopted home, Karjakin has been a staunch supporter of the Kremlin and Russian policy in Ukraine which has seen Moscow forcibly annex the Crimean Peninsula following the ouster of former Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych and then support a separatist conflict in the east that has claimed more than 9,100 lives. 
Following the Russian operation in Crimea in 2014, Karjakin posted a photograph of himself on Instagram wearing a T-shirt bearing an image Russian President Vladimir Putin and the caption: "We don't leave our guys behind."
The only time I seem to lose my cool on Twitter is when people who ought to know better show sympathy for the Putin regime. He is all but a Fascist dictator and on the borders on Europe.

He was allowed to annexe territory in Georgia and then Ukraine with barely a word of condemnation from the British left.

Yes, the situation in the Crimea is complicated. Historically, it was part of Russia but was transferred to Ukraine as part of his programme of blurring ethnic boundaries to discourage nationalist risings against the Soviet Union.

So you can make a case that the Crimea should be Russian. But the idea that shared race and culture justify military action that breaks international law is an odd one for the left to embrace.

Meanwhile, I suspect Karjakin has a good chance against Carlsen. At the very least we shall find out how good Carlsen really is,

His challenger in the last two world championship matches, Vishy Anand, never gave the impression that he believed he could win.

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