With his back against the wall, it appears Muammar Qaddafi felt he had one person he could rely upon..
That man, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, told Interfax news agency earlier today that Qaddafi had called him and told him “alive and well and still in Tripoli and not planning to leave Libya.”
He added that the Libyan dictator was “certain we will win”.
So who is Ilyumzhinov?
The last we heard of the Russian was a couple of months ago. He was in Tripoli, playing chess with the Libyan leader:
It was an unusual photo op. But then again, everything Ilyumshinov does is unusual.
Ilyumshinov’s initial success came as a chess champion. Born in the republic of Kalmykia, the only Buddhist state in Russia, by age 7 he was winning chess championships, and at 14 he was champion of the entire republic.
After time spent herding goats and a stint in the Soviet army, he began working selling cars — eventually becoming a millionaire during the gold rush of Russian privatization in the 1990s (though no one is exactly sure how). By the age of 30 he was president of the impoverished Kalmykia region, a position he held until 2010.
In the 1990s he returned to his love of chess, becoming President of FIDE, the World Chess Association. It’s thought that his travels promoting the game led to his friendship with Qaddafi — Saddam Hussein was another friend.
Dictators aren’t his strangest friends though. In 2006 Ilyumzhinov revealed that 9 years earlier he had been abducted by aliens.
“They took me from my apartment and we went aboard their ship,” he told The Guardian. “We flew to some kind of star. They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around. They wanted to demonstrate that UFOs do exist.”
He later told the Independent that chess, a “cosmic game”, had been brought to Earth by aliens.
Critics claim that Ilyumzhinov’s interest in chess is a sham and he simply uses it to weld power. Chess legend Garry Kasparov once wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he used his power “in the same authoritarian way he runs his impoverished republic”.
Indeed, he may have something in common with Qaddafi’s style of leadership — chapters in his autobiography are titled “Without me the people are incomplete” and “It only takes two weeks to have a man killed”.