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A Russian chess champion has been suspended over his pro-war comments

Sergey Karjakin competes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2017. Karjakin has repeatedly shared Russian propaganda and endorsed the war in recent weeks.
Salah Malkawi
Getty Images
Sergey Karjakin competes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2017. Karjakin has repeatedly shared Russian propaganda and endorsed the war in recent weeks.

A Russian chess grandmaster and outspoken supporter of President Vladimir Putin has been banned from competition for six months over his recent comments about the war in Ukraine.

The International Chess Federation — known as FIDE — announced on Monday that it would be suspending Sergey Karjakin, saying he had damaged the reputation of the organization and chess itself by supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine on social media.

A three-person committee unanimously found Karjakin guilty of breaching article 2.2.10 of the FIDE Code of Ethics, as they explained in a 10-page decision.

"The statements by Sergey Karjakin on the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine has led to a considerable number of reactions on social media and elsewhere, to a large extent negative towards the opinions expressed by Sergey Karjakin," officials wrote.

Karjakin has repeatedly shared Russian propaganda and endorsed the war in recent weeks, garnering backlash from fans and losing invitations to a number of Western tournaments. Among his public statements was an open letter to Putin backing the military operation and offering the army his best wishes, according to a translation from Chess24.

In a recent tweet, he said he was asked whether he regretted his public support of the military invasion.

"My answer is simple. I am on the side of Russia and my President," he wrote. "No matter what happens, I will support my country in any situation without thinking for a second!"

The 32-year-old was born in Crimea, the territory that was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014, and switched from representing Ukraine to Russia in 2009, according to RadioFreeEurope. He previously held the record for the world's youngest ever grandmaster, a title he qualified for when he was 12.

Karjakin is currently ranked 18th in the world, AFP notes, but the ban means he won't be able to participate in the Chess Candidates tournament in Madrid in June. Eight players will face off there, with the winner poised to play Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen next February.

Karjakin called the FIDE's decision "shameful" in a post on Telegram. He said he had no regrets, describing himself as a patriot first and a chess player second.

Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported that Karjakin does not plan to appeal the suspension, but that the Russian Chess Federation will.

In a separate decision, chess's governing decided not to take disciplinary action against another Russian grandmaster, Sergei Shipov. Officials ruled that he did not breach their code of conduct for his pro-war statements because he has a smaller platform and, therefore, smaller potential negative impact on the organization.

"In comparison with Sergey Karjakin, Sergei Shipov is considerably less known and has, therefore, a less powerful platform," they wrote. "The statements made by Sergei Shipov are also of a slightly different and less provocative character than the ones made by Karjakin."

Kajarkin is the first chess player to be sanctioned since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began nearly a month ago. But the sport is one of many that has distanced itself from Russia in recent weeks.

The International Chess Federation had already banned tournaments in Russia and its ally Belarus, as well as barred their flags and anthems from FIDE chess events and terminated sponsorship agreements with their state-controlled companies, as NPR has reported.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.