Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Gaddafi asked me to help restore peace in Libya"

- Was your meeting with Muammar Gaddafi a private initiative or were you a mediator between the Russian leadership and the leader of the Libyan revolution?

- I had planned a trip to the Jamahiriya in January, but it was the Championship of Southeast Asia that month, so I asked to postpone the visit until late May or early June. I arrived in the country at the invitation of the Libyan Chess Federation and the National Olympic Committee on June 11. The visit lasted two days.

-Was the meeting with Gaddafi planned as part of your visit?
- No. I have had meetings with the leadership of the Chess Federations, NOC, the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Education and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning the programme "Chess in Schools". All of them were successful, the agreement is now being prepared, and, we hope, chess will be introduced in Libyan school curriculum on October 1.
In addition, two international seminars for trainers and referees and the chess tournament will be held in Libya. Moreover, I have asked them to support FIDE efforts to recognize chess as an Olympic sport. I received backing of the Libyan leadership.
During the meeting with the President of the NOC Mohammed Gaddafi - the eldest son of Muammar Gaddafi - I conveyed condolences to the family of Gaddafi on the death of their next of kin. NATO airstrikes killed 29-year-old son of Muammar Gaddafi, 4-month-old granddaughter, two grandsons, twins who just turned two years old, and about 15 relatives who were at their home when five NATO bombs dropped on the building.
Later, when I was in the Russian Embassy (I stopped there to congratulate them on the Day of Russia), the son of Gaddafi suddenly called and said that I can convey condolences to his father in person for he was waiting for me. I came; we talked for about two or three hours. We played chess and chatted.
- Did you inform the Russian leadership about that meeting?
- Whom shall I inform? I, the President of the International Chess Federation, did not work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as neither a mediator, nor the special representative. I did not receive any authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Presidential Administration because it was not necessary.
- What was your impression about Gaddafi? How was the meeting?
- He was upset and saddened because of the death of relatives. He asked: "Why did they bomb us?" Many civilians were killed during the bombing. He met me on the ground floor (the meeting was held in one of the buildings of the National Olympic Committee), then we proceed to the first floor, where the meeting was held.
The Western propaganda wrote about him: he was lame, oblique, lying in the hospital, wounded, shell-shocked, and inadequate. In fact, he was a normal person and intellectual. I think chess is not the game that anyone could play.
- Does he actually play chess? Could it be that he only wanted to please you?
- No, in fact there are photos of us playing chess in 2001, 2002, 2003.
- In other words, have a kind of tradition been formed?
- He suggested playing not me. The chessboard stood in the corner of the room and he said: "Well, shall we play as usual?" I said: "Well, let's play...". However, he is not a professional like me – the Champion of Kalmykia and Moscow, the Champion of the armed forces ... He just loves to play...
- Who played which pieces?
- He had white and I had black.  We started with the Spanish opening. He lost a knight and I could have won immediately but somehow I felt it was not quite appropriate... He tried to fight very hard to the last moment.
- And the game ended in a draw ...
- I was uncomfortable to hurt his feelings being his guest...
- And how he sees his and Libya’s future?
- He said he was tired to repeatedly tell that every party needs to sit down at the negotiating table; it was time to stop the bombing, in which people were killed. When we went to the Ministry of Education, I saw a bombed hospital: NATO troops bombed parliament building, missed, and bombed a hospital instead. On other occasion, they wanted to destroy the TV tower, missed, and smashed half a block. And he was ready to sit down at the negotiating table and to negotiate with NATO.
He said that Russia was at war in Chechnya in 1994, and if NATO had considered the independence of Chechnya and the government led by Yeltsin illegitimate; prohibited aircrafts to fly over Moscow; and froze all accounts of the Russia – would it be normal? He stressed: "This is our internal affair; I am ready to hold elections, to negotiate..." I realized that he had a very strong desire to discuss the problems while NATO did not have such desire.
- Did Gaddafi ask you to somehow influence the situation?
- He asked me to use my authority to help with restoration of peace. In addition, it was not only him: I met chess players and common people who shared the same opinion. They said they did not understand why they had being bombed.
- Are you going to do something about that?
I have officially declared that. However, in reality - what can I do? I can only apply to journalists for openness, transparency and write the truth about what is going on.
- What's going on, what is the situation in Tripoli?
- I went there by car, travelled half the country, and when we arrived at hotel, the TV was showing BBC coverage of rebels that captured two cities, which we had just passed. We stopped at a cafe and drank coffee in one of these cities. And TV reported the fierce fighting going on there. In fact, there were just the traffic controllers dressed in white at the crossroads. In addition, I have not seen any rebels anywhere. We arrived in Tripoli in the evening. The weather was good and we went for a stroll. All the streets were lit, quiet, and peaceful. We walked without any guards and the next day went to cafe next to the Ministry of Education and saw no security. Moreover, I did not see any guards around Gaddafi.
That is, the situation was calm. There was a problem with petrol: kilometre-long queues for car fuel, because NATO had blocked everything. There was plenty of food in the shops and the fish market was in front of our hotel, where fresh fish were sold. There was no shooting in the city. There were airstrikes at night and I heard the explosions on the outskirts. And there was a drone constantly flying over Tripoli.
- Is Gaddafi going to leave the country?
- And why would he leave? This is his birthplace! Therefore, he said: "Here, in this land, I lost my adopted daughter, son, three grandchildren, so why do I have to go somewhere?" There is no question of Gaddafi leaving the country. He says that the people of Libya want negotiations.
- If negotiations begin, would they be conducted by Gaddafi?
- No, there's elected government - the President, the Government, the Foreign Ministry, and so on. I was asked why I did not go to Benghazi... Yes, I would have liked to go there, but there are no government bodies in Benghazi, all foreign embassies are located in Tripoli. There is also a legally elected Parliament and Government.
- Do you mean that there are no leaders among the rebels, with whom it is possible to negotiate?
- It's not the case of leaders. Gaddafi said: “let us make elections. Let the people elect their president, government, and MPs". However, negotiations, he said, should be conducted with NATO to establish what they actually need – whether it was oil, gas, gold and foreign exchange reserves? For all the talk about human rights -it is just the same old story.