Ilyumzhinov: "Russia is right in the dispute with the West"

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told the BBC Russian Service about talks with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, poetry readings in the tent with Muammar Gaddafi, the rights of sexual minorities and the global war between good and evil.

- At what stage is your legal dispute with the US authorities on inclusion you in the sanctions list?
It was, of course, a shock when the US Treasury imposed sanctions against me on November 25, last year. At first I could not understand why. Then I asked: "How did I get there?"

They replied: "For the ties with the citizens of Syria, for assistance to the Syrian Government and the Bank of Syria." But there was nothing criminal in my work.  All my activities and all the meetings with officials, as the President of the International Chess Federation, were straightforward for the past 20 years.
Thus, I decided to take advantage of this moment: in my life I had to fight with the Soviet system even, when I was expelled from the institute. And this time I am facing, probably, the most strong, sophisticated and insidious enemy - the US Government. I perceived it as a blessing, by approaching to the problem philosophically, as a Buddhist.
I thought that the Lord Most High is testing me before granting me something big. And if I would pass this test, I would see something good over the horizon or the hill: some kind of a treasure or the blue sea. I'll sit on an island and enjoy life. And that’s why I decided to fight.
- Have you decided to fight in the legal field? To apply for the US citizenship in order to file a lawsuit against the US government?
Yes, there is a law that prohibits foreigners to sue the US government. I was ready to pass a polygraph test, which is lie detector. I addressed, with the help of my lawyer, the heads of FBI, CIA, and the US Treasury.
On August 18, I have finally received the administrative case on several dozens of pages: a sealed envelope, inside of which I discovered reprints of some newspapers, in particular, the Guardian. And there were only two lines: I am acquainted with Dr Adib [at that time the head of the Central Bank of Syria Adib Mayaleh] and a certain lady, whom I had never seen or heard.
 - At what stage is your interaction with the US authorities?
I wrote a letter to Barack Obama, who is the Guarantor of the Constitution and the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, asking his audience in relation to the two items. The first one is the upcoming match for the title of the World Champion, which is due from 10th to 30th of November. I, as the President of FIDE, would like to invite him to this event. And the second item is to discuss with him the sanctions against me and clarify why I was included in the sanctions lists.
In case I would need to be an US citizen in order to prove my innocence, then he, as the President, is able to provide it to me out of turn. Let him give it to me, and I'll go to court. Let the American judge try me in accordance with the American laws and on the American soil. If they would find me guilty, then let them send me to jail for 10 or 50 years. I am ready even to go to the electric chair.
- Are you ready for a death penalty?
Yes, if they would find me guilty of gifting the Syrian children with a thousand chess boards and holding the chess tournament for children of Aleppo and Damascus. If they would consider that I have thereby caused damage to the United States, then I would be ready for the most severe punishment. But if they would find me innocent, I'd like to see the US Supreme Court rule against the US Treasury.
I ask Barack Obama to defend my rights in the United States from the arbitrariness of the US officials. After all, he protects human rights in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, so let him protect my rights when I am given the US citizenship. And let them pay me the damages!
- As far as I understand, you have only got a letter from the US authorities with permission for entry for the World Cup?
No. I received a letter from the US Embassy to come to an interview, and I think that as long they have started this process, the things are started to move on. They asked me to answer - which countries and in what order I have visited in the last 15 years.
Given that I visit about 100 countries per year, there would be about a thousand countries in total. I should not just list the countries but also to provide copies of the passports and the approximate times of my visits. I have five assistants working on that now. Never mind 15 years - I have visited five countries just this week...
- There are a lot of different items among the charges that are being discussed in the media in connection with your inclusion in the sanctions list. This concerns the oil trade with the banned in Russia ‘Islamic state’, and connection with the mentioned by you Adib Mayaleh. They say that you are a shareholder of the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, where the chairman of the board of directors is your friend Mudalal Khury. What is true and what is not?
Let's consider two things separately: what was written in the newspapers and what was mentioned in the administrative case, signed by the head of the OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury, the US Treasury Department]. The newspapers wrote that I supported ISIS. However, if you believe this, it turns out to be a logical contradiction. On the one hand, I supported the President Assad; on the other hand, I supported ISIS, which was fighting against Assad.
- Thus, could it represent some ingenious design, in which some part of the Syrian government sells oil to some Islamists to get money to continue its fight with other Islamists?

A lot is possible to conjecture now but when I received the administrative case, there was nothing like that: no mentioning of oil or ISIS. There was one line only that said that I know two Syrian citizens, including Dr Adib, who, incidentally, is a French citizen as well. He regularly goes there to see his wife and children. Last year he won a lawsuit against sanctions imposed on him: his assets, both in dollars and euros, were unfrozen. It has turned out that I was included in the sanctions list for my communication with him.
- And did they mention Mudalal Khury?
No. I am friend of Khury for about 20 years. By the way, he is a political immigrant. His father and he were the members of the banned in Syria Communist Party. He is banned entry to Syria; whenever I went there, I brought him gifts: pistachio and all kind of sweet-stuff. I answered all the questions of the US authorities: when and where I met with Dr Khury, how many times I met with Dr Adib.
- Thus, your meetings have been purely formal?
-By virtue of my professional activity I meet with a lot of people. I met with Bill Clinton, for example. Thus, if the International Tribunal in The Hague would sentence him for anything tomorrow, would I be tried for communicating with him? Yasser Arafat was not just included in the sanctions list, he was number one terrorist in the world, and yet he was received at the White House as the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Everything changes.
I, as a chess player and FIDE President, do not pay attention to the political scrum. If the country is a member of FIDE, or member of the UN, I officially meet with people of those counties.
- They wrote about RFA bank, where you reportedly have more than 19 per cent of the shares, that it should become the FIDE bank sponsoring the sports projects. Is it true?
No, I had 10 per cent of shares two years ago, but I left the bank. I helped this bank. The bank did not have any accounts in Syria, had no accounts of Syrian citizens and have not had any transactions with the companies cooperating with Syria.
I left the bank, because I travel a lot these days and I have too much to do. The bank is too small. Originally, all that happened because my friends asked me to support the bank where many of my countrymen worked. We have transferred some money to it, helped it initially and then I left.
- You are acquainted with almost all the leaders who are called the bad guys in the western world and more specifically in the United States. You met with Muammar Gaddafi; you know the Bashar al-Assad for a long time, not mentioning Saddam Hussein, and so on. Did it send shivers down your spine while communicating with them?
The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prompted me to meet Gaddafi after she visited Libya, where she hugged and kissed him. I was also prompted by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gaddafi financed his election campaign with 150 million of euro. I have seen these accounts. Gaddafi showed me them and said: "Well, how so? He was my friend, and now he is bombards me."
The third, out of those prompted me to meet with Gaddafi, is the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: they signed a contract for $ 10 billion to supply weaponry. Finally, Silvio Berlusconi, who kissed the hands of Gaddafi, is also in this list. I looked at it all and wondered: if European leaders meet with Gaddafi, why I, a simple chess player, cannot come and hold World Chess Championship in 2004?
As a Buddhist I didn’t feel any shivers. We were talking about poetry and reincarnation... Maybe Blair or Berlusconi had shivers when communicating with him. I do not know, ask them. Gaddafi invited me to his home town Sirte, he met me in a tent and fire-roasted a camel.
I encountered similar situation with Saddam Hussein: when we met, he showed me the pictures of his meetings with the US Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The US weaponry helped him in fighting Iran during the ‘Seven Years’ war. Why should I, a simple chess player, not to come? I did not get any money there but held the tournaments only.
- As you said, you got acquainted with Bashar al-Assad in 80s. What impression did you get from Assad? Have you ever been to his house?
Last time I was in Syria a few years ago. We talked for about two or three hours. I was amazed: he was absolutely quiet.
- Did he change, compared to what he was as a young man in London?
No, not at all. He neither lost nor gained weight; he remained the same intelligent, charming person. He told me: "Kirsan, what is happening? Before, I was for everyone the young President, the reformer, liberal, democrat. The foreign leaders came and hugged me. And suddenly overnight I became a tyrant, despot, dictator and devourer of people."
Why did all that happen? Simply because the interests of leaders of some countries have changed. Therefore, if I let myself to be guided by politicians, then I would need to sit at home, avoid going anywhere and never play chess. How am I to know that tomorrow, let’s say, the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel would not be put in jail for her migration policy?
- Do you feel growth of international tension? Sometimes they write and speak nearly about the possibility of World War III. What, in your opinion, could be the trigger of global armed conflict and whether it might be at all?
Of course, I can feel it. I'm probably the only person, who travels that much and meet with so many ministers, MPs and leaders of different countries. For me it's hard to conceive that what is happening in the world could be accidental.
Yes, there is a chaos theory, but there is also the theory of controlled chaos. Why was it necessary to overthrow Saddam Hussein? Why was it necessary to intervene in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan? I had visited these countries before and during and after conflicts. Before I could ride around the city on a bicycle in Libya in the evening, and now it is impossible to get out of the house; the country is divided into three parts. Why did it all happen?
If someone does not like a particular politician, if someone wanted to spread their economic relations - for example, to build some sort of pipeline- it would be less expensive to sit down with that person at the negotiating table. I read that more than 450 thousand militants from 87 countries were had been sent to Syria within four years. Bashar al-Assad told me that in fact it was him, who should be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Simply because he, like some kind of cleaner, is fighting the militants flocked to his country from around the world.
- Could Syria become a fuse that might ignite global conflict - similar to how regional conflicts led to World Wars in 1914 and 1939?
Yes, of course. I remember Assad told me: "Kirsan, they do not understand that Syria is the concentration of all religions." He wanted to take me to - we did not have time - a Buddhist temple in the north of Syria, which is more than two thousand years old. There co-exist Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Bashar Assad also told me that if they would oppose Syria, if they would start to act out of political frames, then the tectonic shift would occur in the world civilization. More than 100 armed conflicts are currently happening in the world already. We can say the war between good and evil is going on around the world.
- And how would you characterize - in the political sense - what is good and evil in the modern world?
I would consider the issue from the biological point of view. Someone is fighting somebody all the time, there are always two poles. Same as it happens in business, when one successful businessman is trying to devour the other. I believe that the US economy has felt its own strength, power, greatness to the extent that the US can export their ideology and attitudes. And there is a struggle for markets: the same Transatlantic Treaty, promoted by the United States, is beneficial to them, not to Europe. While Russia is a vast country, covering one-sixth of the earth’s land.
- That is, from the viewpoint of that logic, is Russia the pole of good?
- At the time, Reagan called the Soviet Union an ‘empire of evil’. However, the Soviet Union is long gone, thus, take it easy at last. Still, they try to represent Russia as evil that must be fought. The most interesting thing is that here in Russia everyone thinks exactly the opposite: that the concentration of evil is abroad, while we are right.
- And where does the truth lie, in your opinion?
- I think that not so much as Russia is right in this dispute but the Russian culture and its people. Besides, this could be said about any other people: I visit a lot of countries and I can say that people are ordinary everywhere. The basis should be the traditional and historical values universally.
Recently my nephew, who had just returned home after studying in the West, said: "Uncle Kirsan, you do not understand: there is no democracy in Russia, the supporters of same-sex marriage are being hurt..." And I said to him: "Imagine that you and I have come to Bashantu [city in Kalmykia, the official name is Gorodovikovsk]. Do you know our Uncle Petya? And Uncle Vasya? So, imagine that he invited us to his wedding to Uncle Petya. Shall we go?" The nephew said to me: "Uncle Kirsan, are you crazy?"