Vladimir Putin has almost overnight turned his country into North Korea. Russia is facing sudden and incredible international isolation and financial ruin. There are too many developments to list, but here are some of the most significant blows Russia has suffered since Putin ordered the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.
On the strictly financial front, the United States has banned all transactions with Russia’s central bank. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) will no longer process most Russian banking transactions. Switzerland has frozen Russian banking assets. These actions have already caused a run on the ruble which is plummeting in value.
Meanwhile, Europe and Canada have closed their air space to Russian aviation, which means incidentally that Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov will not be attending a disarmament conference in Switzerland. It also means wealthy Russians won’t be jetting off for Parisian weekends and that business travel will be greatly complicated.
Then there’s the Sweden and Finland’s sudden interest in joining NATO, even in the face of naked Russian threats, and Germany’s decision to send lethal weapons into a conflict zone, which reverses a self-imposed ban in existence since World War Two. In addition to this, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria are transferring some of their fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force.
None of this was imaginable a week ago. But Russia was already somewhat of a pariah state. That was in evidence at the recently concluded Winter Olympics where Russian athletes were not allowed to compete under their own flag or play their national anthem thanks to their country’s history of using performance enhancing drugs through a state-sponsored doping program.
Now something similar is happening in Russia’s favorite sport, chess. The International Chess Federation (FIDE– Fédération Internationale des Échecs) consulted with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and decided to bring the hammer down.
Following an extraordinary meeting of the FIDE Council held on Sunday, the International Chess Federation has officially condemned Russia’s invasion in Ukraine and taken a number of measures against Russia and Belarus, including a ban on hosting official events and displaying their flags in FIDE-rated events…
…Following the call from IOC, the FIDE Council decides that no Russian and Belarusian national flag be displayed or anthem be played in all FIDE-rated international chess events. Instead—the national chess federation’s flag or the official symbol/logo shall be used.
The 2022 Chess Olympiad will not be held in Moscow as planned, and Russian sponsorship of chess will be banned.
“In order to safeguard FIDE from reputational, financial, and any other possible risks, FIDE terminates all existing sponsorship agreements with any Belarusian and Russian sanctioned and/or state-controlled companies and will not enter into new sponsorship agreements with any such companies.”
This would suggest the discontinuation of working together with companies such as the gas supplier Gazprom, the fertilizer giant PhosAgro, and the mining firm Nornickel.
This is an enormous ego blow to Russia, and it’s uncertain how it can be reversed. Certainly, the chess world won’t relent even in the face of a cease fire if Russia doesn’t relinquish any territorial gains it makes during its Ukrainian invasion. As Alexey Zakharov wrote for Chess.com last year, “In the last hundred or so years, Russia became almost synonymous with chess. The country in its many incarnations—Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and now “just” Russia—produced more grandmasters and world champions than any other, and its players enriched the ancient game immensely.”
Technically, many of these grandmasters were Soviets or Russian subjects rather than ethnically Russian, including Mikhail Botvinnik, a Jew born in the Grand Duchy of Finland. Nonetheless, Russia takes an enormous interest and tremendous pride in their traditional success in chess. Two of the last three world championship matches pitted Russians against Norwegian champion Magnus Carlsen, although GM Sergey Karjakin, who narrowly lost to Carlsen in 2016 was born in Crimea, and represented Ukraine in the 2004 Chess Olympiad. He now plays for Russia and is probably the most outspoken supporter of Putin in the chess world. He supports the invasion of his former homeland.
You may not be interested in chess, but I mention these developments to highlight just how quickly and broadly Russia has been cast out of the international community. Yes, it certainly matters more to the average Russian that they can’t conduct any international financial transactions and their currency is becoming worthless. And Russians were already outcasts in international sport. But chess is different from bobsledding and ice skating. This strikes right at Russia’s self-image and pride.
The world community’s reaction to the Ukrainian invasion has been so intensely strong that no one would have predicted it, and a lot of the consequences will be lasting under almost any imaginable circumstance.
I worry some that we could be taking Russia’s humiliation a little too far, if only because Putin has nuclear weapons and no foreseeable exit strategy that leaves him in power. But, ultimately, we have to hope that he won’t be inclined or allowed to blow up the world, and instead we’ll have the great advantage of having united against fascism in ways that that will be lasting and beneficial.