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Letter from Russia – Planet Kirsan

April 24th, 2006 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF Inside a chess master's fiefdom.
by Michael Specter

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is not your typical post-Soviet millionaire Buddhist autocrat. He is the ruler of Kalmykia, one of the least well known of Russia's twenty-one republics. He also happens to be president of the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or FIDE, the governing body of world chess. Ilyumzhinov functions a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Instead of a balloon, though, he uses a private jet. In Kalmykia, a barren stretch of land wedged between Stavropol and Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea, you can't miss the man: his picture dominates the airport arrivals hall, and billboards all along the rutted road that leads to Elista, the capital, show him on horseback or next to various people he regards as peers—Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. Read more »