Putin ‘will use World Cup like Hitler’s Olympics’, agrees Johnson


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Media captionBoris agrees with MP’s Putin and Hitler comparison

President Putin is using the World Cup in Russia as a “PR exercise” akin to how Hitler used the 1936 Olympics, the foreign secretary has agreed.

Boris Johnson said Labour MP Ian Austin was “completely right” to say the Russian president wanted to “gloss over [his] brutal corrupt regime”.

Mr Johnson said that he would have an “urgent conversation” with Russia about the safety of fans at the tournament.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said he was “poisoned with hatred”.

Spy attack

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed Mr Johnson was speaking on behalf of the government and that they were working closely with police on plans for the World Cup.

The foreign secretary said it was of “crucial importance” in light of 23 British diplomats being expelled from Russia – including the individual responsible for football fans.

The Foreign Office will produce detailed travel advice closer to the time.

The exchange came as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee discussed the Salisbury spy attack.

  • Russian diplomats leave amid spy row
  • Russian spy: What we know so far

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in a critical condition in hospital after being poisoned with the Russian nerve agent Novichok.

The former military intelligence officer and his daughter were found slumped on a bench and unconscious on 4 March.



Officers still guard areas of Salisbury which the Skripals had visited

Earlier, Boris Johnson described it as “a sign” from President Putin that “no-one could escape the long arm of Russian revenge”.

He said: “[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’.”

He also said Russia chose the UK for the attack as it had “called out” Russian abuses “time and again”.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale said there had been expectations that things might “die down” after no additional diplomatic punishments were implemented by the UK on Monday.

However, he said the foreign secretary had “reignited the rhetoric” and comments from Russia ensured the situation was “inflamed”.

Boycott threats

Hitler became German leader in 1933 and used Berlin’s hosting of the Summer Games of 1936 as part of the propaganda for his Nazi regime.

He had already brought in rules in the country to ensure all athletics organisations had an “Aryan-only” policy, which led to international backlash.

But despite boycott threats, the games went ahead.

Speaking at the Commons committee hearing, Mr Austin said: “The idea of Putin handing over the World Cup to the captain of the winning team; the idea of Putin using this as a PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime for which he is responsible; it fills me with horror,” he said.

Mr Johnson could be heard saying, “I’m afraid that’s completely right, completely right”, during Mr Austin’s comments.

The foreign secretary then added: “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.

“I think it is an emetic prospect frankly to think of Putin glorying in this sporting event.”

‘Wrong to punish team’

However, when Mr Austin said he believed the football team should pull out of the competition, Mr Johnson disagreed.

“On balance 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,” he said.

On the issue of fan safety, Mr Johnson said he needed to have an “urgent conversation” with the Russians around how they “propose to fulfil their obligations under their FIFA contract to look after all fans”.

However, he admitted this conversation had yet to take place.



The England team is in training for the competition this summer

Despite the attack, Mr Johnson said the overall aim of improving relations with Russia – as discussed during his trip to Moscow in December 2017 – remained “effectively unchanged”.

He added: “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 claimed the UK had “many admirers among the Russian people” and the UK wanted to “hold out the hand of friendship” to them, as the quarrel was with the Kremlin, not the citizens.

Moscow meeting

Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, has snubbed a meeting called by the foreign ministry in Moscow to discuss the attack.

The ministry had invited all ambassadors in the country to attend the meeting, but reports suggested a number of Western diplomats refused to attend.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin, said: “Perhaps this is another eloquent demonstration of the absurdity of the situation when questions are being asked but the unwillingness to hear some answers is being shown.”

Speaking at the meeting, Russian foreign ministry official Vladimir Yermakov suggested the UK might have been behind the attack.

“Either the British authorities are not able to provide protection from such a, let’s say, terrorist attack on their soil, or they, whether directly or indirectly, I am not accusing anyone, have orchestrated an attack on a Russian citizen,” he said.

Mr Yermakov also disputed the UK’s finding that Novichok was used in the attack.

“Any use of a military-grade poison would inevitably lead to numerous casualties immediately on the site of the poisoning,” he said.

“The picture in Salisbury is completely different”.



Officers are helping inspectors with their equipment in Salisbury

In Salisbury, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have arrived to begin work at the site of the attack.

They have been seen outside The Mill pub, which Sergei and Yulia Skripal are believed to have visited, before later being found on a bench.