An inside look at the Russian Basketball Federation: From 2010-2015

Photo © Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Europe

In 2011, Russia won Eurobasket Women and at the London Olympics, a year later, the men’s team captured the bronze medal. All looked good for basketball in Russia on the court, but off the court, things were not so comfortable. But it was all under wraps, like most international federations.

However, from Yulia Anikeeva’s controversial victory in the presidential elections in 2013, many wondered how she toppled Svetlana Abrosimova so easily? But that to was kept largely under lock and key to the majority of the international world.

But now, in a letter sent to TalkBasket’s John Hobbs by an insider close to the Federation, who wishes to remain anonymous, the secrets of why Fotis Katsikaris left, why the RBF were in debt, why did Russia’s national teams fall in 2013 so easily in the group rounds and stories of who came into power and how.

This is how the insider [who is not a TalkBasket employee or contributor] tells the story, TalkBasket have been allowed to publish under the insider’s instruction.

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I think it’s fair to say this entire story began in 2010, after the huge referee scandal that occurred after the Lokomotiv Kuban-Dynamo Moscow game the Russian Superleague.

Well, leaping ahead, there were two big infamous tape recording scandals in Russian basketball. Both involved the odious Sergey Chernov, a member of FIBA Board and the honorary president of the Russian Basketball Federation.

What happened back in 2010, was that someone recorded a conversation between four people: Maxim Astanin, Chief Specialist of the Men’s Superleague and inspector of the quarter-final playoff game between Dynamo Moscow and Lokomotiv Kuban, Efim Resser who was the commissioner of that game and two referees: Sergey Bulanov and Sergey Krug. This conversation supposedly happened in the referees’ locker room after the first quarter-final game in Moscow.

In brief words, the inspector lectured the referees for not helping Lokomotiv enough to win the game. They had to “call (the fouls) two times that way, one time this way” and complained that he would have to “explain to Cherny, why Loko ‘lost the series’”.

The referees admitted they did everything they could to get the desired result, and it was Lokomotiv’s fault in the end. After it was all published there was an investigation – the RBF created a commission of seven people with Leonid Evropeytsev (head of the supervisory board of RBF) as the head, and his goal, along with the rest of the commission was to find out who the mysterious “Cherny” was.

But the seven-person commission never succeeded.

Nevertheless because of the huge scandal, Chernov decided to leave his position. Alexander Krasnenkov was elected president. Previously he was the president of Spartak St. Petersburg and at the same time general director of a giant Russian conglomerate, so he definitely didn’t come to the RBF for money.

With his “retirement” Chernov left the Federation almost 40 million Rubles in debt, which Krasnenkov cleared during his time in the RBF. Krasnenkov could attract sponsors or even use his own money, he ran the business as well as he could. He tried to bring young blood to RBF, and in general the atmosphere was good. Plus, he signed up veteran Greek coach Fotis Katsikaris to the national side so that he could carry on the fine form that David Blatt left the national team in, post London 2012 and it all looked pretty promising.

At the same time the men’s clubs, the ones who wanted nothing to do with the RBF, the referees and so forth created their own professional basketball league. Krasnenkov transferred the right to organize the Russian Championship to PBL for three consecutive seasons.

Personally, it was the best thing that has happened to Russian basketball in a long while. No corruption, no RBF involved; no “paid” referees.

All seemed to be perfect until the summer. Of course, there were people who were not really happy with Krasnenkov. Several factors concurred and it ultimately led to Krasnenkov’s resignation.

Let’s just say that Chernov wanted his power and authority back. 

So now we bring in Vladimir Khlopikov. During Chernov’s reign he was both a FIBA commissioner and the secretary general of the RBF. When Krasnenkov came to power, he offered Khlopikov to choose between the two positions. Khlopikov decided to be commissioner and of course was mad, because he lost his salary and authority at RBF. Krasnenkov appointed a relatively unknown Natalya Galkina as secretary general. 

The VTB League, a well established basketball league wanted to have the rights to organize the Russian championship instead of the now vanished PBL. (I believe to have more sponsorships for the official Russian Championship recognized by FIBA). First they wanted the rights for free, and then for half of the real price. All this because VTB wanted to be recognized by FIBA as the national championship, so they were in long negotiations with RBF, they had these rights transfer contracts drafts.

So, they pushed Krasnenkov with all the possible means, and one day in June, I believe, he gathered all the employees of the RBF and stated that he was tired of fighting the windmills and that he decided to resign and promised to tell the whole story one day.

And there it began. The next day Chernov returned with glory to the RBF offices and established his rules there. Almost for two months the federation was without any governance. At the same time, Evropeytsev was made acting president. Together with Krasnenkov, Galkina, the chief accountant, the lawyer, and the PR director all left the federation.

[editor: Evropeytsev left the Federation around two weeks later and Yulia Anikeeva took over]

One of the first “achievements” during Yulia Anikeeva’s time as acting president was a pretty vile story regarding the dismissal of the head coach of the national team Fotis Katsikaris and the general manager Oleg Ushakov – which happened only three days before the start of the preparation for Eurobasket.

Krasnenkov signed the contract with Katsikaris, who had to leave his head coaching position at Bilbao (as you know, according to ACB regulations, head coaches of ACB teams can’t have national team contracts at the same time).

Anikeeva and some members of the executive committee were against this appointment, because they wanted a Russian coach. Several days before the start of the preparations she fired Ushakov, the only person who Katsikaris trusted in the “new” Federation – and that was the last nail in the coffin. So, rather harshly, Anikeeva forced Fotis to leave his position.

After that in August there was the election gathering, where Anikeeva was elected as president, winning with 97 votes against 63). There were two main candidates: Anikeeva and Svetlana Abrosimova (who actually was a protégé of Prokhorov, who just finished her basketball career).

Anikeeva as the acting president was part of the organization of elections, but the meeting itself was quite a circus: they didn’t want to let some voters in. When CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin spoke on the stage, he said that he wanted Chernov to go and leave basketball, that the election wasn’t organized properly and that what happens in the Federation looks more like an illegal seizure, he had a fight with Anikeeva’s husband who yelled at Vatutin to ‘shut his mouth’.

But later on, in yet another recorded conversation, it was revealed that Vatutin and Chernov had quite an interesting discussion over the phone two days before the election.

In brief words: Andrey Vatutin tried to bribe Sergey Chernov into convincing the supporters of Anikeeva to change their minds and to vote for Abrosimova. The content of the phone call gives evidence that in this story the president of CSKA represents the interests of the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov (Vatutin calls him “Misha” in the conversation), who unofficially financed Abrosimova’s election campaign. Vatutin assured Chernov that “Misha” is ready to pay generously for his services, that the Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko would do anything Vatutin tells him to.

What was required from Chernov was to call all the regions and convince them to support Abrosimova and let them know that the presidential chief of staff Sergey Ivanov also supports Abrosimova. Vatutin insists that they need to have a meeting with Misha but Chernov refuses.

Chernov behaves and refuses to help, saying that he can’t bluff and can’t “turn it around” and also judging by the quality of the recording and also the presence of a third unknown person who sometimes directs Chernov, it’s clear that the recording was made by Chernov.

Vatutin later confirmed that the conversation really did happen and that he would never talk to Chernov over the phone again.

So finally, more about Yulia Anikeeva – she is an ex-athlete – even says she’s an international sports master in rowing, but no one ever saw any confirmation. But intriguingly more than that, in 1995 criminal liability was attached to her for the use of consciously forged documents.

After her sports career she worked in the Rowing Federation, and with the Russian Dance Sport Federation. In 2003 she established the JSA marketing agency which worked actively with the both Federations. In their commentaries about Anikeeva’s times in those Federations her colleagues speak pretty carefully. On the air of “Vesti FM” on their “Full Contact” program from July 25, 2013, the ex-president of the Rowing Federation, 1976 Olympian Anushavan Gasan-Dzhalalov said that Anikeeva is not very neat when it comes to money.

“I had one contact with Mrs. Anikeeva, I would say, not a good one,” Gasan-Dzhalalov stated. “She supported the idea that existed in rowing for a long time, to organize competitions with [the] participation of Cambridge and Oxford, invite Americans, Italians, and Russians with the plan that they make it on regular basis. The idea was there for a long time but she was able to make it happen … and when in the third year the Russian team won, Anikeeva didn’t pay them the prize money. The athletes told me that.”

What is also interesting that no matter where Anikeeva is, her husband is always by her side. His name is Konstantin Grinvald (Bakhvalov, before he changed his last name), an ex-member of Special Police Force who was on the federal wanted list during 10 years for complicity for a long list of crimes. Criminal cases were opened against him for illegal deprivation of freedom, abuse of power and kidnapping. In 2004 he was finally arrested in Moscow on suspicion of kidnapping of the businessman Dmitry Smirnov. Considering his reputation, there is no surprise he threatened the investigators and tried to struggle on arrest. During the search incident they found an international passport in the name of Andrey Stanislavovich Kozlov and the picture of Bakhvalov-Grinvald. But lucky for him, he was included in the amnesty of 2004.

In 2008, Anikeeva became the executive director and then the vice president of the Russian Students Basketball Association, from 2010 she then a member of the Executive committee of the Russian Students Sports Union, and in December 2011, she was appointed the deputy general director of the United VTB League.

Moving forward, on August 3 2013, Anikeeva became the president of the Russian Basketball Federation. The RBF office was situated in the city center near Arbat Street, which was convenient for Krasnenkov. Her office, she had three (Russian Dance Sport Union, VTB United League and her JSA Agency) was situated on Frunzenskaya. She never came to our Smolenskaya office, she only moved the accountants, the lawyers and the press officer to her base, and didn’t say anything to the others; the people just went to work to the old office. 

As soon as she came to power she brought a lot of people for strange positions. I can understand that she wanted to bring people from basketball, but frankly speaking, Dmitry Domani and Alexey Savrasenko were not the best choices.

Savrasenko is a very kind person but I don’t get how she could put him to the head of development position. All he was doing were some masters classes with Lazaros Papadopoulos, but you know, three masters classes a year could hardly be called “development”. Later he was transferred to the 3×3 department.

When the results surfaced, retired Russian [USSR] international Anatoly Myshkin said on the elections: “There were no elections. It’s not just my opinion, it’s a fact. Everyone was told that it had been decided long ago that Anikeeva shall be the president. The delegates were told: come to Moscow, we will announce our decision. In no way was that a democratic election. What I saw was shame, shame and one more time shame. What happened was a gang issue. It’s unbelievable.”

Shortly after the election the basketball federation of Perm (who recommended Abrosimova) they went to court and asked to determine the election results invalid. The lawsuit was based on the fact that the executive committee, which was controlled by Anikeeva who was the acting president, allocated the quota for regional federations the way they wanted creating more votes for delegations who predeterminedly supported Anikeeva and influenced the result in this manner.

The lawsuit was exhausting but the electoral conference of RBF dated 02.08.2013 was finally deemed illegal and the decision of the court was that they ordered RBF, acting through the executive committee elected on February 20, 2010 to conduct new elections and within 60 days they had to elect the President and the new executive committee.

The appeal was denied.

As you know, a couple of days before the election she resigned.

For the record, when Domani was allegedly going to nominate himself for the new elections, he said that he hadn’t done anything bad, and that he was just doing his job

Savrasenko published a letter and even a copy a payment document from Russian Railways (sponsors of 3×3) to the RBF for the 3×3 national team, claiming that Anikeeva stole the money (1 million Rubles).

Anikeeva answered to Savrasenko’s accusations via Sovetsky Sport : “What could you expect from the person who we tried to teach the basics of computer literacy for two years, but never succeeded – he never learned how to switch on the computer.

“Not to speak of the document flow in the organization – this is way beyond his fantastic capabilities. And it turned out, he is able to insult. And now the lawyers will work on that.”

My opinion: I am in no way justifying her, but the payment document he published only confirms that the money was transferred from RR account, but to be sure it reached RBF’s account you need to see the RBF bank papers.

Second, the fact that the national team members didn’t receive the money doesn’t actually prove that she stole it from the RBF account; it might still be there.

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