Kramnik breaks his silence on the war

by Martin Breutigam
3/6/2023 – While a number of Russian chess masters have publicly spoken out in favour of stopping the Russian war of aggression, hardly anything has been heard from others. For example, from Vladimir Kramnik, the 14th World Champion (2000 to 2007). Martin Breutigam, author and International Master, asked Kramnik about the long silence – and received a full answer. | Photo: Guido Kohlen

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After a long time I emailed Vladimir Kramnik two questions, asking for a statement for my weekly newspaper column in the Berlin "Tagesspiegel". In contrast to some of his Russian grandmaster colleagues, who condemned the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine early on and in some cases very courageously, Kramnik, who has been living in Switzerland for a long time, so far held back with public statements. To my surprise, a detailed answer followed the very next day. However, Kramnik linked it to a condition: I was welcome to publish his words – "but only in full". I wrote back that my column was much too small for that. After a short back and forth, we agreed to publish his views unabridged on this website.
Of course, there are some passages where one would like to ask questions or contradict him immediately, but it is not an interview or a discussion with speech and counter-speech, but the personal statement of a prominent man with half Russian and half Ukrainian roots.

Here are my two original questions and Kramnik's answers.

Question 1: What (chess) projects or plans are you pursuing at the moment?

Kramnik: I am doing many things, among others recording a new course on chessable, just released the educational chess application for children (mainly but not only) Chess Legends, which everyone can download from the web, other things. Plan to participate in the Dortmund no castle chess tournament this year.

Question 2: If I haven't missed it, you have not yet taken a public position on the Russian war against Ukraine. In contrast to some of your colleagues. Why haven't you formulated a position yet?

Kramnik: I do not use social networks, I am not used to making public statements in general, and in fact you are the first journalist to ask me this question.

If you want to know my thoughts on this, I can describe them here. I am against ALL wars A PRIORI, without exception, but I do not see much point in publicly expressing this obvious idea. Except to seek public applause.

Unfortunately I can see that, contrary to the words, in reality very few politicians or public figures make REAL efforts to STOP it somehow. On the contrary, in my opinion, these statements often just add fuel to the fire, provoking even more confrontation and hatred between people...

There is a lot of demagogy and "right words" in the media these days, but I prefer to try to help some people who need help in these difficult times, no matter what nationality they are. And hope that everyone will finally start discussing what can be DONE practically to find ways to stop the war.

I strongly suspect that many (of course, don't get me wrong, there are enough sincere people, but still a minority) public "activists" are actually just using this dramatic situation for their own self-pride (mainly to feel on the "right side" and to be liked by the public), because few of them go further than words. Or think deeply about the possible consequences of their proposals made out of their "morally justified anger".

Another thing that makes me think this way is that somehow I haven't heard most of them before expressing concern about the hundreds of thousands of victims during recent major wars such as Iraq, Syria, to name just a few. And some had even publicly supported these wars. Sorry, but I don't believe in "selective humanism"...

I am of half Russian and half Ukrainian origin, have relatives and friends in both countries, whom I try to help as much as I can, and this is very personal for me. I believe that the real agenda now is to concentrate on finding ways to stop this war, rather than "witch-hunting". And I don't believe for a second that there is no way to do that. As the old saying goes, if you really want something, you find ways, otherwise you try to find excuses...

I have no desire to take part in what has long since become, in my opinion, a vanity fair. Many people have already been publicly applauded for their statements, but that hasn't improved the situation. The confrontation is still going on, and unfortunately it is getting worse. With the possible consequences of a global WW3 we are slowly but surely heading towards under this chorus of self-proclaimed "fighters for good". So what is the point of all these declarations? To create a nice self-image? To feel like a good person? I leave it to all those interested to play this game, not my cup of tea, sorry.

I will express my views on this tragic situation WHEN I decide to do so, but only after this empty vanity fair and witch hunt, which I must admit makes me quite angry, has ended. That is my main human position.

And those who, for some unknown reason, have decided to give themselves the right to judge and condemn anyone who dares to stay out of the chorus of empty speeches, may continue to enjoy their "moral superiority", but I reserve for myself the right to do and say what is in accordance with my inner human values.

I do not believe, for the reasons mentioned above, and because of basic human and democratic principles (which I believe are still valid in any situation), that anyone has the moral or any other right to IMPOSE an obligation on me or anyone else to say something when and what they prefer.

For now, I will continue to DO something, as much as I can, and let the "talkers" talk, and be proud of themselves.

I did not mean to offend anyone in particular, but I hope my position is now clear.

Best regards


Martin Breutigam writes as a journalist and columnist for various daily newspapers, including the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and the "Tagesspiegel". The International Master has published several chess books, e.g. "Todesküsse am Brett", "Himmlische Züge" and "Genies in Schwarzweiß" (Verlag Die Werkstatt). His tactics trilogy ("Learning to Combine", "Patterns of the Masters", "The Techniques in the Sacrificial Attack") as well as several opening DVDs from the series "A Modern Repertoire" (e.g. "Reti Opening", "Slav Defence", "Sicilian Defence") were published by ChessBase.