Boris Johnson: Putin will use World Cup like Hitler used Olympics
Russia says Foreign Secretary is ‘poisoned with venom of hate’
Boris Johnson has warned that the Fifa World Cup in Russia risks being turned into a propaganda circus by Vladimir Putin in much the same way that Adolf Hitler hijacked the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
The comments were made yesterday during a session of the Foreign Affairs committee when Labour MP Ian Austin called on England to boycott the tournament because Putin was sure to emulate Hitler’s approach to the Berlin Olympics.
“Your characterisation of what is going to happen in Moscow in the World Cup, in all the venues, yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right,” remarked the Foreign Secretary.
Tensions between Britain and Russia are fraught after the chemical poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury earlier this month. Britain has accused Russia of the crime and in retaliation expelled 23 of the country’s diplomats from London this week.
The Foreign Secretary says Putin wants to portray Russia as “strong again” and to that end he will pursue his ambition “at any price”.
Johnson added: “I think Vladimir Putin feels that Russia lost out, so he wants to cause trouble wherever he can. His principal audience for this is not us, it’s his domestic audience.”
Britain won’t be sending any dignitaries to Russia for the tournament but Johnson says he’s not in favour of withdrawing England from the competition, believing it “incredibly unfair to punish the team”.
But he has expressed concern for the welfare of supporters given relations between the two countries and the fact that well-organised bands of Russian hooligans targeted English fans in Marseille during the 2016 European Championships.
“It is up to the Russians to guarantee the safety of England fans going to Russia,” said Johnson. “At the moment we are not inclined actively to dissuade people from going because we want to hear from the Russians what steps they are going to take to look after our fans.”
Nonetheless, government concerns are clearly shared by fans. England supporter applications to travel to Russia are a quarter of what they were at the same period before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, according to the Foreign Secretary.
The welfare of fans who do travel has been complicated by the fact that one of the British diplomats expelled by Russia in reprisal for the country’s own expulsions had been tasked with overseeing fan safety at the World Cup.
“You can’t imagine anything more counter-productive to the UK’s ability to help fans in Russia, so there is an issue,” said Johnson.
“My challenge to the Russian authorities is to show that the 24,000 UK applicants for tickets to the football World Cup are going to be well treated, are going to be safe.”
Johnson’s comment drew a swift and stinging response from Moscow, reports The Times. Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the Foreign Secretary was “poisoned with venom of hate, unprofessionalism and boorishness… It’s scary to remember that this person represents the political leadership of a nuclear power”.