Russian Politico, Chess-Master and UFO Enthusiast Comforts Gaddafi

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Simon Shuster reports for TIME that proponent of alien lifeforms, chess, and anti-Western dictators Kirsan Ilyumzhinov visited with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi Sunday evening. Ilyumzhinov, a Russian politician and former head of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, sat down with the embattled leader to offer him some comfort and play a game of chess. Although Russian president Dmitri Medvedev had promised to mediate an end to the Libyan conflict, and previous Russian envoys had condemned Gaddafi’s actions, Ilyumzhinov was technically in Tripoli as the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) on a mission to promote chess in Libya.

This is not the first time Ilyumzhinov has been in the public eye. Most notably he drew media attention when he claimed that he was abducted by aliens who landed a spaceship on his balcony in 1997. Additionally, his position in FIDE has led him to be at the center of several international stories: Ilyumzhinov fought a contentious media and legal battle against former chess world champion Anatoly Karpov in the 2010 FIDE elections, although he ended up winning the vote decisively. He has also been a fierce advocate for the Republic of Kalmykia, which, under his leadership, became the only place in the world where chess is a mandatory subject in school. Shuster writes:

For the past 15 years, Ilyumzhinov has also presided over the world chess federation, known as FIDE, which makes him the first head of an international body to meet with Gaddafi since the U.N.-backed bombing campaign against him began in March. In a video shown on Libyan television on Sunday night, Ilyumzhinov praises Gaddafi’s resilience. “It’s a great honor for me to be here to see that you are very well, healthy, because many people… gave wrong information,” he said in stilted English.

The two men then played a rather awkward game of chess. Allowed the first move, Gaddafi made a clumsy opening, nervously moving his pawn from F3 to F4, and Ilyumzhinov took the piece and moved it back for him. The game ended in a draw and a handshake for the cameras, after which Ilyumzhinov told reporters that Gaddafi had promised never to leave Libya, regardless of the West’s support for the rebels battling to overthrow him. The two-hour chat, Ilyumzhinov said, was held not in an underground bunker, where many western experts had presumed Gaddafi to be hiding, but in “one of the administrative buildings in the Libyan capital.”

Read the full story here.