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Russia will not ‘punish’ England fans over spy poisoning row

A source at London’s Russian Embassy dismissed a suggestion the tournament was a “propaganda event”.

England fans will be welcomed as guests by World Cup hosts Russia who will not look to “punish” supporters over the sour relationship with the UK Government, according to an official.

The source at London’s Russian Embassy dismissed the suggestion the tournament was a “propaganda event”, following a comparison to Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

In an effort to reassure the travelling Three Lions support, the embassy official said their invitation to the festival of football stands “whatever the political situation”.

Diplomatic relations between the UK and Russian governments have hit the deep freeze since the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in March, prompting concerns from UK politicians over fans’ safety.

But the source said: “We are not going to mix all our differences with some states into this grand sport event, we are not going to punish anyone for disagreements with their government – it is just not how it is done.”

Amid the political fallout from the Skirpal poisoning, Mr Johnson, in a Commons’ committee hearing, agreed with Labour MP Ian Austin’s suggestion the Kremlin would use the tournament to “gloss over” Russia’s “gross human rights abuses”.

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(PA Graphics)

Asked what the World Cup would do for Russia’s global reputation, the official said: “We are not arranging this World Cup because we need some large propaganda event. We are arranging it because we want a grand sport event.

“Of course it will be positive because we believe we have many good things to offer our guests but it is not the primary purpose to persuade someone.

We believe most fans will be normal people, just there for the game. I don’t think we will have any problems Russian Embassy official

“If someone is definitely against Russia, I don’t think they will be pro-Russia after a football game but we are talking to a more general public.”

The embassy official said there had been concern at British press reports English hooligans would travel to Russia in response to the attacks in Marseille during Euro 2016.

They said: “Of course, it is of some concern when we are seeing some publications in some media here that some fans are saying they are going to Russia to launch some sort of fan war and take revenge for some alleged wrongs – it is a source of concern.

“Basically we can’t be sure that such things were actually there, it may more or less heating up the public opinion, a sort of fake news.

“We believe most fans will be normal people, just there for the game. I don’t think we will have any problems.”

The country’s security services have taken measures to combat the threat from hooliganism and each nation playing in the World Cup will have a police presence at an international hub in Moscow, the official said.

Britain will contribute six police officers, who will be allowed to wear their uniforms, they added.

UK police said fans should expect a paramilitary-style security operation, with thousands of officers providing a ring of steel around matches during the tournament.

And the official said Russia’s police and security structures have demonstrated they were “up to the task” at previous sports events and were capable of keeping an “aggressive minority in check”.

Twelve British consuls have been granted visas to provide consular support to English fans, the official added.

It comes after Foreign Office officials said their preparations for the tournament suffered a blow by the expulsion of 23 diplomats from Russia over the Salisbury attack row.

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(PA Graphics)

Anti-discrimination campaigners have also raised concerns over racism in the stadiums, following high-profile incidents at international and European matches.

Asked what was being done to combat the issue, the Russian Embassy official said: “Unfortunately, that’s an international problem.

“There is also an aggressive minority who is not pretty much interested in sports. They would have been aggressive even in a sewing club or things like that.

“I believe that once again, that most of the fans won’t be involved in any sort of racist issues and if someone tries it I believe there is enough security there to dissuade him from this course of action.

“Of course it’s not a civilised way, it shouldn’t be tolerated be it a sport event or whatever.”

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