Four days ago a Russian newspaper published a startling interview apparently conducted with former World Champion Boris Spassky, in which he revealed he’d “fled” to Moscow from Paris, where he’d been held under almost house arrest by his wife and denied medical treatment. Spassky’s sister Iraida has now responded to utterly reject that version of events, and express her concern for her brother’s safety. She also mentions “a woman” as the instigator of recent events.
The new development comes in Soviet Sport, in an article that gives: 1) a letter from Iraida Spasskaya to the newspaper, 2) an interview with Iraida after that letter was received, and 3) a “version of events”, where “close friends of Boris Spassky” describe the dramatic circumstances in which Spassky was brought from Paris to Moscow last Friday. All those elements are translated below.
The author of this latest article, Kirill Zangalis, also published the original interview with Boris Spassky a few days ago. As you’ll see, that makes the interview below puzzling in parts, as surely Zangalis should be able to address some of Iraida’s concerns (most basically: how did he get in touch with Spassky himself?). It should perhaps be added that although Zangalis is a well-known chess journalist, he has a “mixed” reputation. Last August he was taken to task by none other than Vladimir Kramnik for making up some quotes, after first getting permission to pretend a press conference was an exclusive interview... Nevertheless, there’s no reason to doubt Zangalis has been in touch with key figures in this story, and there is a basis of fact to the account.
Iraida Spasskaya spoke at the Spassky Cup in 2007 | photo: Sergey Bystrov
Boris Spassky’s sister wrote the following to Soviet Sport:
My brother undertook a journey that was unthinkable in his condition, exposing himself to constant danger. To my bitter regret I still have no information about where he is, although the family and I have been trying to get through to him. Yes, there’s a woman involved here – the instigator of the kidnapping and… However, in respect of how scrupulous my brother is I have to keep quiet. All I’d say is that on the 13th August I flew back from Paris, where I'd spent five days. I saw the happy smiles of my family and good friends, there were doctors and physiotherapists and three nurses cared for my brother. And then three days later he was gone…
Iraida Spasskaya then gave a telephone interview from St. Petersburg:
A few days ago I was staying with him in France. It seemed to me I was in heaven. I found Boris in a better condition than I’d expected.
How close are you?
I’m eight years younger and he was like a father to me. It was Borya who insisted I was called Iraida. That was the name of our godmother, who in the hungry post-war period once gave Borya some bread. He didn’t forget the good deed, and our parents listened to the 8-year-old boy, although they wanted to call me Tatiana.
How did Boris Vasilievich look when you saw him for the last time?
He spoke excellently, and I watched as with the help of a trainer he climbed up nine stairs and came back down himself. I wanted to help, but the doctors said he needed to do it on his own.
But he told me in the interview that he was treated badly…
My brother couldn’t have said that. Those are someone else’s words that have been forced on him! There simply couldn’t have been a better place for him to recover. A wonderful little house with a garden in Meudon (a Paris suburb), a wonderful atmosphere, doctors, trainers, three full-time nurses. Everyone made sure things were comfortable for Boris Vasilievich. My brother was in an excellent frame of mind and said that he really liked everything.
Are you acquainted with his wife Marina Shcherbacheva?
Acquainted?! I’ve known her for over thirty years, almost since the first day she met Boris. Marina is an honourable woman, and above all the slander that’s been spoken about her. She did everything so that Boris got better.
Did Boris get along with his wife?
He always held her up as a model for me!
The World Champion declares that he deliberately fled from Paris.
My brother was always an overly independent person and took the most unpredictable of decisions. In this case, however, his serious illness has brought him to an act of folly.
What are you planning to do?
The main thing now is to renew the special care that he had in France – the care that was being given by his family. I’ve been trying to find out where Boris Vasilievich is being held. And “held” is the word! He might declare that he took the decision himself, but I know he was “helped”. This is in someone’s interests.
Do you want Spassky to read this interview?
Yes. I really want to hear the voice of my brother, and to see him as soon as possible. I hope he’ll phone me.
The article ends with the following “version of events”:
Close friends of Boris Spassky, who have asked not to be named, told Soviet Sport: on 17th August, at a moment when the grandmaster’s wife wasn’t at home, “friends” of the chess player, having bribed the maid, entered the house and drove Spassky to the Russian Embassy. After obtaining the necessary papers to travel they took Spassky to Moscow. The former World Champion’s current location is unknown.
To sum up what we now know: Spassky left Paris for Moscow last week without his wife’s knowledge. The idea that he was under house arrest in Paris with no contact with the outside world looks obviously false, but at present it’s not clear if the former World Champion travelled willingly or was coerced. If he was coerced then questions would have to be asked about the role of the Russian Embassy, but more importantly, of course, there would be concerns for Spassky’s safety. In any case, with so many questions left unanswered we can expect more details in the coming days. WhyChess will of course report on developments.
Spassky’s sister on her brother’s “kidnapping”