57 Russian fencers were admitted to international competitions. Almost half of them support the war and Putin. Babelʼs second investigation into non-neutral Russian sportspersons

Oleksandr Miasyshchev
Yuliana Skibitska, Kateryna Kobernyk
57 Russian fencers were admitted to international competitions. Almost half of them support the war and Putin. Babelʼs second investigation into non-neutral Russian sportspersons


In July 2023, at the World Fencing Championship, Ukrainian Olha Kharlan refused to shake the hand of her rival, Russian Anna Smirnova. Kharlan was disqualified for this, and later a photo of Smirnova with her brother, a soldier of the Russian army, was found in her social networks. Ukrainian sports officials and politicians opposed Kharlanʼs disqualification, and she was allowed to compete. However, this is probably not the last conflict between Ukrainians and Russians in this sport. In March 2023, the International Fencing Federation (FIE) allowed 57 Russian fencers to return to competition in a "neutral status" — they must perform without national symbols and the national anthem. The list includes masters of sports, prize-winners of the Spartakiads and international championships, some of them Olympic winners. Some of them had time to perform at the European Championship and the World Championship in June and July 2023, respectively. The Russians are likely to take part in the FIE Grand Prix in Turin and the World Cup in February 2024. A mandatory condition for "neutral athletes" is to sign a statement certifying that they do not serve in the armed forces of the aggressor country and donʼt support the war. However, as Babel correspondent Oleksandr Myasishchev found out, almost half of the "neutral" Russian athletes do not meet these requirements. Fencers are in the ranks of the Russian army, went to the occupied territories and supported the war. The International Fencing Federation, which before the full-scale invasion of Russia was headed by an oligarch from Putinʼs entourage Alisher Usmanov, ignores these facts. We are publishing the second text in a series of investigations about non-neutral Russian sports. The first was about Russian judokas who support the war and are going to the World Championship.

How fencing is arranged in Russia

Russian fencers are members of the Russian Fencing Federation (FFR). It works in the occupied Crimea and the occupied part of the Donetsk region and recognizes them as "subjects of Russia". The FFR also has a base in Alushta, Crimea, and takes its athletes there.

In November 2022, the FFR held the “Sabers of the Russian North” tournament for children in St. Petersburg. The hall was decorated with the Russian occupation symbols Z and V, St. George ribbons, portraits of Putin and the inscriptions "For the Fatherland! For Russia! For victory." In October 2023, the Federation organized "interregional" competitions with the participation of children from Crimea and the occupied Donetsk region. The goal of the competition was "education of national self-awareness, patriotism and a sense of unity in children."

"Sabers of the Russian North" tournament.

For almost 15 years, the president of the International Fencing Federation was Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch from Vladimir Putinʼs entourage. He invested millions of dollars in the development of fencing and, according to the President of the Fencing Federation of Ukraine Mykhailo Ilyashev, for years he was the main sponsor of FIE.

On February 28, 2022, due to US, EU, and British sanctions, Usmanov announced that he would "suspend" his activities as president "until justice is restored." The Federation was temporarily headed by the Greek Emmanuel Katsiadakis, but the entire team that worked with Usmanov remained, says Ilyashev: "The executive committee worked with him, many of them remained in place. And there are also a large number of people with Russian surnames from different countries of the world who are in various bodies of the FIE." In addition, Usmanov continues to sponsor fencing in Russia and gives awards to athletes. In the Russian Federation, the fencing oligarch is called their "guardian".

In July 2022, Russia asked the International Fencing Federation to allow its athletes to compete in international competitions in a neutral status. The Russians received permission only in March 2023, 57 athletes were included in the list. The most titled — Olympic champion Sofia Velika and Yana Yehoryan — were not allowed to compete. The president of the Russian Fencing Federation, Ilgar Mamedov, called the conditions of "neutral status" shameful and said that his athletes will not compete in international competitions. However, later the Russians did go to the European and world championships. Mamedov explained that they were asked to do this by the International Fencing Federation itself.

We have analyzed who exactly FIE has selected to participate in the competition in a neutral status. Below is a list of Russian athletes who support the war, advocate for army structures, and some of them are active military personnel.

Anton and Kirill Borodachevs

The 23-year-old Borodachev twins are the winners of the World Team Championship and the silver medalists of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In 2021, Putin awarded them the 1st degree "For Merits to the Fatherland" orders. In the Kremlin, during a meeting with Putin, the awards were presented to the brothers by his assistant Igor Levitin.

Since 2018, the brothers have been representing the Central Army Sports Club as juniors. In 2021, they were called up to the CSKA sports company of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, where they took the oath. There, fencers had to undergo a "young fighter course" — 40 hours of tactical, fire and engineering training. In the same year, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu awarded them medals "For strengthening the combat brothership".

During the full-scale invasion, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation also congratulated the Borodachovs on their victories. In 2023, Kirill Borodachev received the title of "Soldier of the Year". During the entire war with Ukraine, the brothers never spoke out against Russiaʼs aggression or condemned it.

Alan Fardzinov

Swordsman Fardzinov is a representative of CSKA and an ensign of the Russian army, who has been serving since at least 2017. In addition to civilian appearances for the Russian national team, he is a member of the Ministry of Defense national team. His father, Robert Fardzinov, is also connected to the government — at least in 2017, he was an official and a member of Putinʼs “United Russia” party. Now he is the vice-president of the Pankration Federation in the Republic of North Ossetia — Alania.

Sofia Pozdniakova (Lokhanova)

Fencer Pozdniakova is the daughter of the President of the Russian Olympic Committee, Colonel of the Russian Army Stanislav Pozdniakov. In 2020, she won twice at the Olympics in Tokyo. For this, Putin awarded her the "Order of Honor" in the Kremlin. Pozdniakovaʼs father also said that in 2022, due to her "love for her homeland," Pozdniakova divorced her husband when he left for the United States.

Pozdniakova has been a representative of CSKA since 2017. Since 2020, she has been a member of the athletesʼ commission of the Russian Fencing Federation and represents the interests of fencers. She also spoke at the CSKA forum, where children were promoted to enroll in sports schools of the army structure.

Pozdniakova took part in the propaganda rally "Immortal regiment", posted likes on posts in support of the war, twice after the start of the war with Ukraine, she was photographed with Putin.

Valeria Kobzea

Fencer Kobzeva does not hide that she supports Russian aggression against Ukraine. She repeatedly posted likes on posts with Z and V symbols, support for the occupation of Crimea and inscriptions "For peace without Nazism! For Russia! For the President!". Because of this, Ukraine submitted an application demanding to exclude Kobzeva from the list of neutral athletes, and the athlete was not allowed to participate in the European Championships in June 2023. But in July 2023, Kobzeva was on the additional list of "neutral athletes" of the International Fencing Federation.

Vladislav Pozdniakov

European champion and prize-winner of other international competitions Pozdniakov is a representative of CSKA. He took the oath of the Russian army in 2018 in Sochi. Pozdniakov speaks for the sports club "Youth of Moscow", which in March 2023 supported the occupation of Crimea.

Alexandra Sunduchkova

The silver medalist of the World Cup and the European Championship, since 2018 she represents the structure of the Ministry of Defense of CSKA. According to her VK page, she studies at “Voenmekh” University. This is a technical university that "trains specialists in complex security”, in particular defense and information security. In VK, she follows Russian military officer Alexey Shulgin, who published photos from the war against Ukraine.


Another 11 fencers tied to the Russian military forces

  • Edgar Aleksanyan (private of the Central Military District of the CSKA sports company in Samara);
  • Zakhar Kozlov (CSKA private, visited occupied Sevastopol);
  • Kristina Samsonova (CSKA, visited the occupied Crimea);
  • Grigoriy Semenyuk (CSKA private);
  • Kirill Tyulyukov (CSKA private);
  • Alexandr Trushakov (ensign of CSKA);
  • Kristina Yasinskaya (CSKA athlete);
  • Marta Martyanova (Olympic champion, represents the "Dynamo" community, which is subordinate to the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia);
  • Svetlana Tripapina ("Dynamo", published a photo with former Russian president Dmitriy Medvedev in 2015);
  • Alexey Dadaev (published a photo in a military uniform with CSKA chevrons);
  • Vadim Mylnikov (”Dynamo”). Received the “Order of Merit to the Motherland”, for silver medal at the 2020 Olympics.

"Neutral" fencers who trained or rested in the occupied Crimea

A year and a half after the full-scale invasion and nine years of war with Ukraine, none of the "neutral" fencers condemned Russiaʼs aggression or expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian victims. The only thing that upsets athletes is partial restrictions on participation in international competitions. In particular, the silver medalist of the 2017 Summer Universiade and the World Championships, Leila Pireeva, who supports the war and repeatedly posted likes under photos of St. Georgeʼs ribbons and photos with the Z and V symbols, complained about this.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

Russian sports have never been outside of politics — they are part of Russian propaganda. Babel will continue to look for Russian athletes who support the war. Help us in this: 🔸 in hryvnia , 🔸 in cryptocurrency , 🔸 Patreon , 🔸 PayPal: [email protected].