Last Saturday, Sergei Kariakin was allowed to race beyond Russian borders for the first time since his country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 when he took part in the Abu Dhabi Baja Challenge. Although the war seems to have no end in sight as it nears the two-year mark, the ADBC gave him renewed confidence that his fellow countrymen and women will get to run international rally raids like the Dakar Rally again in the near future.
“The organisers are working hard to find ways for Russian teams to participate,” Kariakin told state-run outlet TASS during a press conference on Monday. “Competition in the Truck category died without KAMAZ-master. I really hope that 2025 will be the year when they allow us to take part.”
Kariakin’s comments refer to the Amaury Sport Organisation, who oversees the Dakar Rally and works in tandem with the FIA and FIM. Shortly after the invasion, the FIA introduced measures that stipulate drivers from Russia and ally Belarus must condemn the war and agree to not sport their respective countries’ flags and emblems, instead using a licence from another country or a neutral FIA banner; the FIM enforces a hard ban regardless of a rider’s opinions on the conflict. It is important to note that while they collaborate with the two sanctioning bodies, the ASO is still their own entity who can enforce rules that clash with either federation so long as the others give their approval. For example, the ASO banned national flags of any kind from appearing on vehicles at the 2024 Dakar Rally, which does not extend to the rest of the World Rally-Raid Championship outside of their umbrella. The ASO also barred Belarusian Truck team MAZ-SPORTauto from racing the Dakar in 2022, a month before the invasion, in the wake of sanctions on their parent company.
If the ASO decides to allow Russians and Belarusians into the Dakar, they would likely still require the green light from the FIA and FIM. Both can grant waivers to their rules in “very exceptional cases.”
Some Russians like Denis Krotov, Konstantin Zhiltsov, and Alexey Kuzmich agreed to the terms and were allowed to continue racing the Dakar and W2RC, albeit with licences from Kyrgyzstan and Israel or the FIA as their “nationality”. While Kariakin did not publicly champion the invasion, he is a supporter of President Vladimir Putin and has given generic patriotic statements affirming his loyalty to Russia, therefore not signing the FIA’s documentation. KAMAZ-master, nineteen-time winner of the Dakar’s Truck category, also refused to comply as they are a government-owned manufacturer who provides trucks for the Russian military.
With KAMAZ sidelined, IVECOs won the 2023 and 2024 Dakars in the Truck class for the category’s first winning streak by a non-KAMAZ since 1998/1999. KAMAZ continued to follow the race and gave congratulations to the victors, though team personnel such as driver Anton Shibalov and boss Eduard Nikolaev claim they have received messages from foreign competitors wishing they were present. Nikolaev, a five-time Dakar Truck champion, said Monday that although the team is prepared in the event they receive an invitation to Dakar, much of the competitiveness that made trucks so beloved is mainly found in Russia’s Silk Way Rally now.
Both MAZ and KAMAZ conducted negotiations with the FIA over lifting the restriction to no avail, while Kariakin went as far as to personally write a letter to FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem lobbying for the same.
In place of the Dakar and W2RC, those who condemned the FIA opted for the domestic Silk Way Rally and Russian Rally-Raid Championship. MAZ won the 2023 SWR while Kariakin topped the T3 category for side-by-side vehicles. Kariakin had also hoped to race that year’s Taklimakan Rally in China, who have grown friendly with Russia in recent times, but failed as the Chinese Automobile and Motorcycle Federation upholds the FIA’s policy. Even if the CAMF continues this for 2024, the Russian Automobile Federation-sanctioned SWR’s route will go through China and Mongolia, giving Russian nationals action outside of their home soil.
While his Taklimakan entry fell through, Kariakin still did not have to wait long for his first rally outside of Russia when he entered the Abu Dhabi Baja Challenge, a feeder rally raid series in the United Arab Emirates. Although series organiser Emirates Motorsports Organization is an FIA member club, they agreed to let Kariakin take part with his RAF licence, and he went on to finish second in class. Such a decision raised protest from Ukrainian driver and fellow Dakar Rally alumnus Vadim Pritulyak, who voluntarily withdrew from the race and filed a complaint to the FIA.