That time I was cornered into watching MMA with a war criminal
In this week's Office Hours, I look back on more of the more absurd tales from my time in Russia.
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Q: Hey Karim, I’ve seen you reflect on your time in Russia in some of your interviews and newsletters and was wondering if you had any more stories to share that you haven’t told before?
A: There are plenty of stories from my time in Russia that I keep close to my chest. There was the time I debated an ex-KGB officer on global politics while going shot-for-shot in a hotel room in St. Petersburg; the time I attended an oligarch’s raunchy birthday party on the River Neva; or the time I climbed to the top of the Olympic Rings in a drunken haze.
Today, however, I want to share a story about the time I ended up being cornered into watching part of an MMA event with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who at the time was president of the Russian republic of Ingushetia.
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My encounter with Yevkurov took place during a particularly memorable trip to Sochi in October 2015—a trip that began with FSB agents boarding my flight as it touched down in the coastal town. To my surprise, one of the agents instructed all passengers to remain seated while his colleague meticulously filmed each of us with a camcorder. It wasn't until later that I discovered the reason behind these heightened security measures: Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of oligarchs had chosen Sochi as the venue to celebrate the Russian leader's 63rd birthday.
Putin, who had not been back in Sochi since the 2014 Winter Olympics, was also there to attend the 2015 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix. The race happened to take place next door to where Russian fight league M-1 Global was hosting its latest MMA event. I remember hearing the roar of the race cars as they bolted around the bend of the track, and could even spot the blurs zooming by when I climbed onto the bleachers on the left side of the outdoor arena.
While there were rumours going around that Putin might show up at the M-1 show, he never did. Instead, the guest of honour was Yevkurov, who was no stranger to MMA or to utilizing the sport for political gain.
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