Russian hopes and fears linked to the Putin World Cup



MOSCOW (AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin says that football and politics have nothing to do with each other, however, the World Cup that began on Thursday is much more than sports.

It is about demonstrating to the world that Russia is an agent of global power and not an outcast, that it is an open, safe and generous nation, and not an isolated and repressive place hampered by sanctions.

And the stunned 5-0 victory by the Russian team in the first match of the tournament against Saudi Arabia Arabia was just what Putin needed to point out that Russia is rising again.

Following the deep divisions between his strong-man worldview and that of many Western countries, Putin welcomed fans to his "hospitable" nation by inviting them to "make new friends" with people who share the same values. "

But critics fear that the World Cup legitimizes Putin's autocratic policies at home and Russia's actions ab road, from the alleged meddling in the US presidential election. UU until the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine and an alleged attack of a nervous agent in Great Britain. Moscow vehemently denies any interference in the American vote or participation in the attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury.

Racism, homophobia, conflicts over Syria and Ukraine: "all these reproaches are unrelated to the World Cup," his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday. "Today the football dimension is the most important".

The one-month World Cup, the first hosted by Russia, is also about Putin demonstrating to his compatriots that he is his best envoy and a man of the people, who brought the most watched sporting event of the world to football fans in 11 cities across Russia.

That's especially important for a country that prides itself on its athletic prowess, but whose last massive sporting event – the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games – was indelibly stained with doping revelations so widespread that Russia was banned at the Winter Games in this year.

"It is important for Russia to have this (tournament), we can show that we are a world power football," said Moscow financier Dmitry Finapetov, his face striped with white, blue and red paint, while almost spilling his beer with emotion before the strong performance of his team in Luzhniki.

"When I used to travel abroad, I thought," Why? Will it be like that at home? "He said. "But now I travel and I think things are better at home." … Now foreigners can see that too. "

Geopolitics was the main protagonist on Thursday, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Putin's guest star.

Putin welcomed a" friendly global family " "football fans to celebrate World Cup, but the list of guests of the Kremlin showed where are the loyalties of Russia: the head of the upper chamber of the North Korean Parliament, the prime minister of Lebanon and the presidents of Rwanda, Paraguay, Bolivia , Panama and the leaders of eight friendly former Soviet republics The British royal family and leading politicians are among those who stayed away.

The electrical engineer Sergei Tabachnikov, who came to Moscow from the island of Sakhalin, on the coast of the Pacific, welcomed the international scrutiny that accompanies an event of this scale and hopes that Russia will learn something from it.

"Criticism is necessary aria. It helps us improve, "he said.

Russian authorities walked a careful line Thursday between hardline security measures and a veneer of tolerance.

A British gay rights activist was arrested for an action protest near Red Square, but quickly launched.

Minutes before the opening match, riot police dragged an unauthorized flag vendor to a police van just outside Luzhniki Stadium while shouting "Help me! Help me! "And the fans filmed on their phones." Then an officer turned to the crowd, speaking in English and saying in a reassuring voice, "Nothing to worry about, go enjoy the game."

British pop singer Robbie Williams He also kept himself safe at the opening concert, he hastened the crowd but diplomatically avoided singing his song "Party Like A Russian", which is riddled with stereotypes about Russian extravagance and includes an investigation into an anonymous Russian leader who "relieves" to the population "of his wealth.

Football and love" was the theme of the inaugural show on Thursday, while a debate among Russian lawmakers was about whether Russian women should connect with visiting fans.

But above all the humor was exuberant, with Saudi fans taking selfies with the Russians in the stadium runners. Greetings from "Ro-si-ya, Ro-si-ya!" Or "Russia, Russia!" They roared throughout the game.

Alexander Klimov, who came from the Russian city of Stavropol, summed it up by blowing kisses and saying: "Thank you all for coming to our country … Welcome to Russia, we love you!"

James Ellingworth contributed with this report.

More coverage of the AP World Cup: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup[19659027](function () {
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