Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Any pawn can become a Queen"

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s life always surprises others. After school, which he graduated brilliantly, he went to the army instead of college. He was expelled from MGIMO. In 1993, he surprised his native Kalmykia, having won the presidential election. The whole world was astonished to learn that he become the head of FIDE: this position has been held by ‘Kalmyk Tiger’ since 1995 – a long time record. We met at the end of 1991. The Kalmyk CEO stayed in the room next to mine in Rossiya Hotel.

The standard suite of Rossiya Hotel strikes by its modesty, although a giant jar of black caviar was always in the minibar, reminding the guests that Kalmykia was still washed by the Caspian Sea. However, the meal of the president to-be consisted of a glass of strong tea and a couple of pale sausages with bread. After the election of the first Kalmyk president in 1992, European newspapers were filled with the words like “mysterious billionaire politician”, “Ilyumzhinov’s phenomenon”, “South Korean version in Russia”, “era of the 30-year-old supermen”. The superman dissolved the local parliament and the KGB in Kalmykia.

He vowed to turn his country into a thriving offshore zone, dominated by capitalism, Buddhism and the spirit of the free Cossacks. In addition to some spectacular gestures (such as the order of the multi-meter golden Buddha in Korea and the purchase of Ilya Sergeyevich Glazunov’s grandiose masterpiece “The Mystery of the 20th Century”), he planned to carry out a hard, exhausting work. Therefore, Kremlin became alarmed. Who knows, maybe the energetic and unpredictable chess player from Elista would become the personification of the third force that wins the bout of two opposing groups in politics? Over the past quarter century, much has changed. And so did many people, including Ilyumzhinov.
Today, Kirsan Nikolayevich claims that "he never set himself the goal of becoming a millionaire, a minister, a governor or a president." Now, as he says, his goal is different: he intends to reformat the world. He wants to "bring the number of people playing chess to one billion, so that all presidents play." His grandfather taught him to play chess when Kirsan was five. Many years later, the grandson introduced chess into the school curriculum of his native Kalmykia. In life, any pawn can become a Queen. Sometimes it is important just to be in control of the situation, and sometimes it is better to make a sudden move and take the opponent by surprise. ”
I ask Kirsan to share his opinion of the country’s current leader and his predecessors. The answer is quite diplomatic: “Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin are all great. Why is Gorbachev great? We underestimated his perestroika. Mikhail Sergeyevich is a real genius, a genius of humanity who could not only rebuild the system, but also to change people’s consciousness. I remember the closing of the Karpov-Anand World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland. We sit in Mercedes surrounded by the police on motorcycles and flashing lights. And suddenly he says: "Listen, here we are: you, a simple Kalmyk guy and I, a combine operator from Stavropol, in the centre of Europe, and the roads are blocked because of us". "Mikhail Sergeyevich," I say, "have you already forgotten that you are the president?"
He has thrown a gauntlet. However, only few countries of the former Soviet Union took advantage of perestroika. We abandoned the arms race. We began to open up, rebuild our ideology and our country. However, the West, Europe, the United States of America, and NATO countries had not been reformed. Gorbachev, like a child, believed them. He announced reformation. And he was deceived. Yeltsin is also great, because every nation deserves its leader, its president. Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin appeared exactly at the right time and place. Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union and its ideology. The borders were opened. But he did what no one asked for: he gave the KGB archives to the Americans and disclosed our agent network. Yeltsin continued this destructive line: “take as much sovereignty as they could swallow.”
And he was replaced by KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who, without having significant prior administrative experience, skilfully reformatted the system. After all, he did not come to the power as a heavyweight, although he went through all the stages, starting as an assistant to Sobchak. He managed to make people believe in themselves and the future, to declare that the world should not be unipolar and to regain Russian identity, despite the trillions of dollars that our Western "partners" earned on Gorbachev's perestroika."
When the “Kalmyk Tiger” met with the Dalai Lama, the later asked his host who was he, this very Putin? With Asian slyness, the Kalmyk said that it was exactly the Dalai Lama who opened the way for the Russian president. The Nobel Peace Prize winner could not hide his amazement. And then Kirsan reminded the high interlocutor how several years earlier he had received the meaningful gift.
Here is how it was. Before his visit to the Dalai Lama, Ilyumzhinov met with the then head of the FSB, Putin, in Ilyumzhinov‘s Moscow office. The purpose of the meeting as explained by Kirsan was “to eat delicious lamb.” Word by word, the guest dropped that his wife Lyudmila is passionate about Buddhism. Well, Kirsan asked the 14th Dalai Lama for a souvenir. The Dalai Lama asked: "for whom is the gift?" The guest evasively, so as not to mention the special services, replied: "for the wife of a friend." His interlocutor reacted to this: something must be done for a friend too. And he presented Putin with a white Tibetan scarf Khadag, symbolizing the purity and openness of the path (Tashi Delek). Kirsan Nikolayevich delivered presents to the addressees and has since been ironic: the Dalai Lama, unaware of himself, blessed the way of FSB head to presidential Olympus.
The winner of the Republican Olympiad, who at the age of 15 headed the national chess team, the commander of the city Komsomol headquarters, went to the factory after school. He explains it simply: “I understood that, having entered a university, I would turn into a swat, and this is very far from real life. I had to understand myself and my choices; understand if I could be myself not only in greenhouse conditions. A year later, I joined the army.”
For me, the Communist Party has always been "the steering one". Yes, and I was brought up on literature such as "How the steel was tempered" and "Gadfly." I am sure that every man should serve in the army.  After all, I had a minute of weakness only once in all my time in service. I was washing the concrete floor from grease when they brought me a letter from a friend in which he described a trip to a disco. And I said to myself: “Well, why, why did I go to the army?” They dance there, and I scrub the dishes with salt without hot water, and if you can still scrape aluminium plates, then to do it with plastic ones is impossible”.
However, what's the point of telling about the army? This is well known to all. But everyone, who has served, knows how real men are valued there. Therefore, I am not surprised to learn that Kirsan finished his service as a sergeant, deputy platoon commander, secretary of the Komsomol committee and a member of the district chess team. The further journey of a businessman and politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is like an ascent to the stars.  Of course, he went through thorns on his way but who remembers them, who cares about them?
Suffice it to say that Kirsan became a People's Deputy of Russia in the district with the biggest competition – twenty-one contenders per seat. Naturally, Kirsan won. I say “naturally”, because I understand that such people cannot but win, they are simply not adapted to play second roles. If fate keeps them in reserve, they still make their way and prove themselves, like the grass that makes its way to the sun through the asphalt. “Of course, in addition to incredible efficiency, the ability to live in a border situation for years, sleep for several hours and do ten things at the same time, people like Ilyumzhinov have another gift – talent of solid, balanced calculation and cold analysis. I must also add that there is no lack of vanity – there is no such thing at all.  No, there is simply a rather critical attitude towards oneself and the knowledge of what “dizzy with success” means, the understanding that it is the very test that many real heroes, who have been through thick and thin, fail. "

Evgeny Dodolev

April 2018