Ilyumzhinov: "I always had a strong sense of justice"

- Kirsan Nikolaevich, it seems that your whole life confirms the idea of the lyrics "and rushing to live..." Do you agree?

Of course, I'm rushing to live. But, as they say, one should not rush hurriedly. I always try to plan things for a few years ahead. I want to not just live life, but to realize what I had planned. It’s like chess: play the Spanish opening or Sicilian defence, get an advantage and finish the game with dignity. So I want to finish my life with dignity.

No matter how much we try, no matter how much we play sports and what pills for longevity we take or how much fresh air we breathe while walking with a dog, the end is same for everyone.
Everyone has his own standard. Someone wants to be a couch potato for all his life, to complain and moan: "Here, the salary is small, and the sun is never bright." I want to enjoy life. And to live every day like the last one. When I wake up and feel my arms, legs and my head are still with mine that is great. I thank God for the opportunity to enjoy life.
Life can be lived in different ways. For example, Alexander Pushkin: he died at 37 but look how much he did. Or Mikhail Lermontov. Or Alexander the Great, who by the age of 20 has already conquered half the world. And look at some 27-year-olds: they are only able to make their beds after night. Therefore, I believe that the age shown in the passport is not important. What is important is the potential.
- You said that although you were an excellent student still you did not get a medal, as you began to "stand for justice" in the tenth grade.
Justice must be internal. You must be fair with yourself, because you cannot deceive Almighty. If you have done something bad, then no matter how you pretend you perfectly understand what you’ve done. And about external injustice ... Our world is unfair; I experienced it on my own skin many times: both in school and on the street in my childhood.
But I always got into a fight defending the weak. Cats and dogs. I probably have a heightened sense of justice. I always had something to prove and someone to defend: in school, in the army and at the factory.

- Why did the winner of the Olympiad and the excellent student go to the plant after school?

I did it to prove to myself that I can do it. Self-made man. At school I achieved everything; I won all the Olympiads and even the All-Union Pushkin Olympiad. I had a preferential option to enter the Moscow State University. Many institutes were eager to have me as their student. But I wanted to see what the plant was like.
There was a plant called Zvezda, where we once went on an excursion. And those were the 70s – they always lacked workers. And once I with my friend Sanal, being graduates already, walked around the city and met the director of the plant, who said he was waiting for us. I worked for a year at Zvezda before the army. Then I entered MGIMO.
I am against the parents imposing on children, who have not yet determined their future, where to go and what to do. I am grateful to my parents that they did not do this. Mom – she is now 84 years old and still works as a veterinarian – wanted me to follow in her footsteps, but she did not impose this on me.
I do not think that I wasted my time working at the plant. It is because I could not decide what I wanted for a long time. I did not know who I was at the age of 17. A technician or a humanist? Chess player or boxer? After all, I was the champion of Kalmykia in chess, and the champion of the city by my weight class. And so I decided not to tempt fate, step aside for a while and settled in the plant. I did more than I was assigned to do there after two months’ time.
- What did you do at the plant?
I made the heat balance regulators. It was necessary to solder the parts – 15 pieces per shift. Soon I made slightly less than 20 and was appointed a commander of the Komsomol brigade. By the way, it was there that I opened my first chess club.
Once I brought chess set to the plant. The deputy head of the electroplating shop called the chief technologist, we talked, and it turned out that we can make figures out of plastic debris. First we made them for ourselves and then we provided everyone with them. We sat playing chess at the factory and the press made the figures. The boards were made out of cardboard. We ordered them at a local printing house.
- Can you tell us about how you were expelled from MGIMO for "drinking alcohol in a public place"?
"A public place" was a ‘Lenin’s room’ in a hostel. Since then, I do not like to celebrate my birthdays. It was April 3, 1988, Saturday. Since 1986, there was a struggle with alcohol in the country: they sold limited amount of vodka, the Komsomol organized non-alcoholic weddings, and vineyards were destroyed.
I lived in the same room with an Afghan named Abu Said. He cooked pilaf perfectly. He cooked it on that day. The guys started to come after classes. And foreigners had the opportunity to go to their embassies and bring alcohol from there. The Hungarians brought wines, Germans Lutz and Jorgschreiber brought schnapps and someone presented an old bottle of Siberian vodka. So they continued to come one by one. Said had to cook even an extra pot of pilaf! And the room turned out to be too small for all of us: there were more than 20 people.
There was the room nearby where the student’s council meetings were held with a portrait of Lenin and a long table covered with red cloth. We moved there when the son of Afghan President Babrak Karmal came. And then someone secretly took photos of our meeting and brought it to the KGB. They claimed that we drank alcohol, there were many foreigners, and Kirsan, apparently, was a spy, who worked for Afghan and Indian intelligence.
I was summoned to Dzerzhinsky Street (Address of KGB,-Ed.). "What sort of example do you show to the Komsomol members?" they asked, although the Komsomol members used to drink more than me. They expelled me from the institute and from the party. It was MGIMO with the great competition among the graduates. And that's how they decided to get rid of me. However, later they changed their verdict to a severe reprimand.
- And you wrote letters to Gorbachev, Shevardnadze and the chairman of the KGB of the USSR after this incident.
Yes, I tried to prove that I did not drink alcohol at the Lenin Square, but in the hostel and during non-working hours. I thought that I was right. The trade union committee voted unanimously that I should stay at the institute, but I was expelled. I argued that this was done illegally.
- Have you forgiven those who wrote a denunciation on you?
The KGB immediately told me who did it. They were with us there. And they ate pilaf and drank with us. Later one of them even turned to me for help for I had certain connections by that time. But I do not keep evil: what’s done is done. I was even thankful to them for the lesson.
As a result, my letters reached Gorbachev: they set up a special committee in the summer and reinstated me at the university in the autumn. However, before that I had been evicted from the hostel, so I moved to the quota workers that I was familiar with, who lived at the tram depot. I was even offered to work there... Thus, I used to go from the depot to the Central Committee of the CPSU, the KGB and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I fought.
- Why did you decide to enter MGIMO?
I read the book ‘Branch of Sakura’ by Vsevolod Ovchinnikov. A well-known international journalist wrote a beautiful book about Japan. I thought that the hieroglyphs were interesting. I was always attracted to something unknown. And having served two years in communications regiment of the North Caucasus Military District – I started as a simple soldier and ended in the rank of sergeant – I decided to enter the institute where I can learn the Japanese language. Well, again, I wanted to prove to myself that a simple Kalmyk guy can enter the alleged elite institute of MGIMO.
-What did you achieve as the President of Kalmykia for 17 years?
Kalmykia occupied the last place as per the number of paved roads among the regions of the former USSR. Sometimes it took days to cover a distance of 60 kilometres. It was possible to get stuck in the steppe and stay overnight there. I came to Moscow to ask Gaidar for money and he answered that the hungry miners were knocking at his government’s door with their helmets, "while you have your sheep there."
I started looking for money by attracting investments. I did not take a single rouble from the road fund of the Russian Federation. Thousands of kilometres of roads that later appeared in Kalmykia were built by attracted sponsors and investors.
The same thing happened with gas. Before my arrival only 10 per cent of Kalmykia used gas. The whole regions were without gas. I proved to Alexei Miller from Gazprom that it had to be changed. I am grateful to him. In the end, we made a whole programme. Now Kalmykia has gas almost everywhere.
There was neither theatre nor stadium. I built a drama theatre. I built a stadium with the best football field in the country at that time. Ask any coach, at least Gazzayev or Romantsev. There were no hotels and there are the most modern ones now. There was neither a single Buddhist temple nor one Orthodox Church in Kalmykia. Now there are dozens of churches and the biggest Buddhist temple in Europe.
- Did you notice the sceptical attitude toward yourself when you headed the republic at the age of 30?
Of course. They said: "what a boy could do?" This was a small region in the South of Russia ruled by clans of relatives. And I had to change it by pushing with great efforts for reforms. I felt that the reformation needed a chain of command, which there was none. There was a cumbersome apparatus with half a hundred ministers. Do you know how much did I leave? Five. Government meetings took an hour. I made sure it was not a talking shop. I made it clear that we must work. We had to build roads, put gas pipes and increase the number of livestock.
It was hard for me when I was 30 years old. I lacked the experience. But I had ambitions. I wanted to prove that it was possible to open that godforsaken republic for the world. There were many envious people. Journalists constantly jeered. Arguments and Facts published a huge article on the front page in 1998: "Will Kirsan build New Vasyuki?" (Ambitious scam name of ‘the chess paradise to be’,-Ed.) And I built it in six months, I held a chess Olympiad and put a monument to Ostap Bender. And there was even boulevard named after Ostap Bender (The inventor of ‘chess scam’,-Ed.). He laughs best who laughs last.
- You once said that from 300 to 400 million of dollars of your personal money was spent for Kalmykia's development during your presidency.
Yes it was. It was my money and the money invested by my friends. I even paid teachers and doctor’s salaries out of my own funds for some time in 1993. I bought cars for the ambulance and police. I bought about a hundred cars. Churches, roads and theatre were built on money that was not taken from the regional budget.
I built ‘City chess’. The whole country built the Red Glade for the Olympics while I and my friends built ‘City chess’ for the chess Olympiad. And I gave it to the people. I built the stadium myself and made sure that "Uralan" will be raised from the second league to the highest one to beat the Champion – the Moscow "Spartak". Our football player Alexei Smertin became the captain of the Russian national team and Leonid Slutsky, who trained a backup team, became its head coach. And all this is not a fiction.
- You communicate with many world leaders. You communicated even with those who were called terrorists and dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Why did not you get embarrassed by their reputation?
I always communicated with the leaders of the countries and the presidents that were elected by people. I did not give a thought whether they were bad or good. Hussain was a friend of the United States for a long time. Who gave him weapons when there was the Iran-Iraq war? He was the favourite guest of the United States. Same as the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also was a favourite guest in the tent of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi kissed Gaddafi's hands in the same tent, because he was getting gas at a discount. Gaddafi was happily received by Downing Street in London, when he signed a $10 billion contract for the purchase of weapons. Angela Merkel kissed him fiercely. So I thought, why don’t we hold a chess championship there? And we did it in 2004. He loved and supported chess by promoting it as a subject in schools. Hussein was also a fan of chess: he organized a championship of Asian countries.
Now, US President Donald Trump acknowledged that the US military operation in the Middle East was one of the main mistakes. And who can guarantee that the Nobel laureate Barack Obama will not be tried by the Hague Tribunal for crimes and murders in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria tomorrow? Maybe he would be jailed like Milosevic.
- Now you have litigation with the US Treasury. How are things going and is there any certainty that "victory will be ours"?
The victory will be mine and my team. When I was included in the sanctions list, I said that it was unfair. In connection with the changes in the leadership of the country, they (the US Treasury) were silent for two months but have started a dialogue again now. My representatives spoke at the US Treasury. I continue to demand my exclusion from the sanctions list, although this does not prevent me from fulfilling my duties.
Practice shows that everyone who acts against my truth is eventually destroyed. KGB tried to punish me undeservedly and it no longer exists. I had been expelled from the party but the entire Soviet Union collapsed soon after that. I break through. The US may fall apart but I will stand.
- If you win a lawsuit against the US Treasury, how would you use the money that you get?
I do not care how much they pay, be it a dollar or 50 billion. I need an apology. We created a charitable "Kirsan Fund", which is aimed at supporting democratic changes in the US and around the world. The fund has been already registered in Washington. It will promote such chess projects as "Chess in Schools", "Chess in villages", "Chess in families" and "Chess for people with disabilities". The same funds will be opened in Europe and South Korea. And they will be more humanitarian than purely chess oriented. It can be said that this will be the anti-Soros foundation. He supported the ‘colour revolutions’ aimed at destruction. And the fund of Kirsan will be directed at creation. And work on the establishment of this transnational fund is already underway.