A group of Russian politicians, including chess legend Anatoly Karpov, took on Swiss parliamentarians in a chess tournament at the Federal Palace in Bern on Wednesday. The informal challenge has raised questions while being held during a politically sensitive time, due to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
Senator Filippo Lombardi of the centre-right Christian Democrats, who co-chairs the Russia-Switzerland parliamentary group, made a surprise announcement on Tuesday that the tournament was to take place as part of the celebrations to mark 200 years of diplomatic relations with Russia.
The chess grandmaster, Anatoly Karpov, took part, using notably less of the seven minutes allowed for each game than his opponents. Karpov, a member of the State Duma, a house of the Russian Federal Assembly, was joined by five other Russian politicians.
On the Swiss side, centre-left Social Democrat parliamentarians Christian Levrat, Jean-François Steiert and Andreas Gross took part alongside the centre-right Radical party senator Hans Altherr, Social Democrat Federal Judge Ulrich Meyer, and a local politician from canton Fribourg.
Lombardi described the tournament as a contribution towards dialogue with Russia in light of the current situation in Ukraine where violent unrest and political instability have sprung up the east of the country since Moscow annexed Crimea in February. No official talks were planned with the Russian politicians.
The enthusiasm shown by the politicians as they faced their opponents was not matched by everyone in Parliament. Social Democrat and president of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives, Carlo Sommaruga, told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday that it was a “disgrace” to sit at the games table with a nation making up one side of an ongoing conflict.
Switzerland has brokered talks over the Ukraine conflict in its capacity as head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) this year.
By Jo Fahy, swissinfo.ch and agencies