The World Cup is a “PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime” – the words of the British secretary of state for foreign affairs, Boris Johnson.
The extreme rhetoric coming out of Westminster in response to the nerve agent deployed by Russia on British soil has been backed up by the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats as well as Theresa May banning royals and ministers going to the World Cup this summer.
British fears of going to Russia, amongst the general public, is also clear to see with ticket sales two-thirds of what they were for Brazil 2014 at this point to the run-up of the tournament. 94,000 tickets had been sold at this stage compared to the 24,000 sold to Russia – a figure unlikely to rise following the growing tensions between the UK and Russia.
What has been said?
There was initial talk that the British Government could withdraw England from the World Cup this summer, however, rather than abstaining from the tournament in reaction to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, members of Parliament are now taking aim at Russia by comparing Vladimir Putin’s World Cup to the Olympic games hosted by Adolf Hitler in 1936.
“Putin is going to use it the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics,” — Labour MP, Ian Austin
Mr Austin’s comments on the way Putin may potentially use Russia’s World Cup as a propaganda tool like Hitler did in 1936 was then supported by Boris Johnson, who has recently stood by his comments and looks set to continue the war of words with Russia:
“I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right and frankly, I think it is an emetic prospect to think of Putin glorying in this sporting event,’
‘…[Russia] annexed a sovereign European territory, has been involved in an assassination attempt in Montenegro, has allowed its client state Syria to conduct gas attacks against innocent civilians, and has now engaged in an attempted assassination in Wiltshire.”
— Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson is also supported by the likes of British diplomat, Emma Nottingham, who reiterated the point that Russia has a “record of state-sponsored assassinations’, as members of the British government refuse to let the Kremlin go unpunished with the alleged poisoning on British soil.
How has Russia responded?
For a nation that lost the most amount of soldiers during World War II – 8.7million – the Kremlin has, naturally, reacted furiously to the comments made by members of the British Government.
“Nobody has the right to insult the Russian people, who defeated Nazism and lost more than 25 million people, by comparing our country to Nazi Germany.’
‘That goes beyond common sense and we do not think British war veterans, including those of the Arctic convoys, would share this opinion.” — Alexander Yakovenko, ambassador of Russia to Britain
The Press Secretary for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, has supported Yakovenko’s remarks by saying that Boris Johnson is ‘disgusting and unworthy of the foreign minister of any country’; such defense from Russia is to be expected with there still being a lack of evidence that the Kremlin is to blame for the attack in Salisbury.
Russia’s head of ministry non-proliferation and arms control department, Vladimir Yermakov, has also responded with great anger to Johnson’s comparison and has made remarks that Britain is projecting ‘Russophobia’:
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Pull yourselves away a little bit from your Russophobia and your island mentality.” — Vladimir Yermakov
Is there likely to be violence in Russia 2018?
With both Moscow and London trading blows politically, fears of English fans behaving this summer were dealt a blow with over 100 arrests made of English supporters in Amsterdam following England’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands.
Britain angering Russia with the comparisons of Hitler’s 1936 Olympics are only going to create a greater apprehension of the treatment towards English fans this summer; it perhaps highlights that the foreign sectary should react with more diplomacy in the up and coming few months in the build-up to the World Cup.