During an appearance in Parliament on Wednesday the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, agreed with the Labour MP Ian Austin when he stated that: “Putin is going to use [the World Cup] the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics.”
1936 was the year when German leader and future genocidal dictator Adolf Hitler paraded his evil Nazi regime on the world stage as a legitimate contributor to international society. In July 2018 Russia will host the world’s most prestigious football tournament and Johnson warned that: “The idea of Putin using this as a PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime for which he’s responsible, fills me with horror.”
Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he would speak to the Russian government regarding issues surrounding fan safety. This comes after Russian diplomats were expelled from the UK in the wake of an attack with a nerve agent on a former double agent. Russia retaliated by expelling British diplomats including the one responsible for liaising with football fans when they were attending the competition.
The Russian Foreign Office responded to the Foreign Secretary’s comment, describing him as “poisoned with hatred”.
It was also revealed that only 24,000 tickets have been sold to British fans instead of 94,000 sold to Brits before Brazil 2014. Fans who do make the journey east this summer will have less support if violence erupts as the British consulate in St Petersburg closes its doors due to the diplomatic fracas.
The whole situation erupted after former double agent Sergei Skripal was found slumped on a bench alongside his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4. Experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down concluded the pair were attacked with a lethal ‘novichok’ nerve agent, a remnant of Soviet-era chemical weapon developments. Skripal, his daughter and the police officer that first assisted them all remain in hospital, however, there have been no fatalities.
The Foreign Secretary spoke earlier on Wednesday of the message the attempted assassination carried:”[The attack] was a sign that President Putin or the Russian state wanted to give to potential defectors in their own agencies: ‘This is what happens to you if you decide to support a country with a different set of values. You can expect to be assassinated’.”
Despite the heightened rhetoric the England football team is still expected to compete in the competition. Johnson said: “it would be wrong to punish them [the fans] or the team who have worked on this for an incredibly long time, given up their lives to it.” The Prime Minister has already confirmed that there will be no official political or royal delegation.
In spite of the Foreign Secretary’s attacks on the Russian state he clarified that the goal of improving Russo-British relations remains in place. He stated: “Things are going to be very difficult politically for a whole time to come, but that doesn’t mean all contact must be stopped or engagement stopped.” He also remarked that the current situation is a disagreement with the Russian government and the British state continues to “hold out the hand of friendship” to the people of Russia.
Feature image courtesy: wiki commons and Lifo