Kick Bait

RUS­SIA hopes the World Cup will help im­prove its in­ter­na­tional im­age. The Krem­lin’s EN­E­MIES may have other plans

Newsweek - - News - BY MARC BEN­NETTS

Rus­sia hopes the World Cup will help im­prove its in­ter­na­tional im­age. The Krem­lin’s en­e­mies may have other plans.

Vladimir putin kept a watch­ful eye on a black-and-white soc­cer ball as it soared to­ward him through a spa­cious Krem­lin of­fice, be­fore he deftly bumped it back with his head. On the other side of the room, Gianni In­fantino, the pres­i­dent of FIFA, soc­cer’s in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing body, waited for the re­turn pass. When it came, he flicked the ball up, jug­gling it from foot to foot be­fore kick­ing it back to the Rus­sian pres­i­dent. The two men, both dressed in suits and ties, were tak­ing part in a pro­mo­tional video for this sum­mer’s World Cup, which Rus­sia will host for the first time.

In May, just weeks af­ter the film­ing of the video, Putin and In­fantino met again, this time in Sochi, on Rus­sia’s Black Sea coast­line, where they in­spected the Fisht Olympic Sta­dium. The 48,000-seat arena is one of a dozen that Rus­sia has ei­ther built or re­vamped for the tour­na­ment, which runs June 14 to July 15 and takes place in 11 cities. The gov­ern­ment has spent an es­ti­mated $19 bil­lion on the tour­na­ment, mak­ing it one of the most ex­pen­sive World Cups ever.

This mas­sive spend­ing isn’t be­cause Putin is a huge soc­cer fan; he isn’t par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in it. In­stead, some say, he hopes to use the World Cup to im­prove Rus­sia’s in­ter­na­tional im­age. That’s a dif­fi­cult task, es­pe­cially af­ter the Krem­lin has been ac­cused of war crimes in Syria and Ukraine, spy poi­son­ings in Bri­tain and elec­tion med­dling in the United States and other Western coun­tries. But Putin couldn’t have cho­sen a bet­ter plat­form to spread his mes­sage: The tour­na­ment is the world’s most-watched sport­ing event.

“Putin wants to present Rus­sia as a strong coun­try—not just in the mil­i­tary sense—that is able to or­ga­nize events well on an in­ter­na­tional level,” says An­drei Kolesnikov, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Carnegie Moscow Cen­ter, a Rus­sian-based think tank. “The World Cup will also be an at­tempt to soften his iron man rep­u­ta­tion.”

The Krem­lin has a long his­tory of us­ing in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events for pro­pa­ganda pur­poses. For decades, the So­viet Union pro­moted its ath­letes’ suc­cess at the Olympic Games as proof of the so­cial­ist sys­tem’s sup­posed su­pe­ri­or­i­ties. Some of th­ese ef­forts were be­nign, oth­ers more sin­is­ter. Just be­fore the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, for in­stance, So­viet au­thor­i­ties rounded up dis­si­dents, hand­i­capped peo­ple and oth­ers they judged to be “un­de­sir­ables,” forc­ing them out of the city for the du­ra­tion of the games.

Decades later, Putin put a modern-day spin on Com­mu­nist-era pro­pa­ganda when Rus­sia hosted the Sochi Win­ter Olympics in 2014. The Krem­lin pumped bil­lions of dol­lars (no one knows quite how much) into the games—widely re­ported to be one of the most ex­pen­sive Olympics of all time. Op­po­si­tion politi­cians slammed what they said was mas­sive Krem­lin cor­rup­tion. But Putin hailed Sochi as a show­case for the “new” Rus­sia that had emerged af­ter the col­lapse of the USSR.

It worked. Rus­sia’s ath­letes topped the medals table, the world’s me­dia praised the Olympics’ open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies, and de­spite some neg­a­tive cov­er­age in the lead-up to the event, Rus­sia basked in the glow of pos­i­tive press. The coun­try’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, or FSB, also cel­e­brated what it said was a joint op­er­a­tion with the United States and other Western coun­tries to avert planned at­tacks by Is­lamist mil­i­tants. Even sub­se­quent al­le­ga­tions of mas­sive, Krem­lin-spon­sored dop­ing failed to di­min­ish the re­sults, at least as far as most Rus­sians were con­cerned.

Now, as the world’s top soc­cer players and an es­ti­mated 600,000 for­eign tourists head to Rus­sia for the 2018 World Cup, Putin is hop­ing for a sim­i­lar suc­cess. “This was the dream of many gen­er­a­tions, and this mo­ment is about to hap­pen,” Arkady Dvorkovich, head of the Lo­cal Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee for Rus­sia’s World Cup, said on May 30. “The Olympics in Sochi demon­strated how we can wel­come guests, but this sit­u­a­tion is much larger on the global scale.”

Yet with that scale comes greater risks and more po­ten­tial prob­lems, from Is­lamist mil­i­tant at­tacks to hu­man rights abuses. And the Krem­lin is do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to en­sure noth­ing goes awry.

‘Your Blood Will Fill the Sta­dium’

the ji­hadi fighter thrusts an au­to­matic weapon into the air as a bomb ex­plodes nearby, shroud­ing a World Cup sta­dium in plumes of white smoke. In the back­ground, the Rus­sian pres­i­dent stands at a podium, in the crosshairs of a sniper’s ri­fle. “Putin: You dis­be­liever, you will pay the price for killing Mus­lims,” reads the mes­sage on this on­line poster, which was pro­duced in April by sup­port­ers of the Is­lamic State group (ISIS). In other grue­some images cir­cu­lated on­line, ji­hadis are de­picted be­head­ing some of the world’s top soc­cer stars, in­clud­ing Lionel Messi and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. A cap­tion reads, “Your blood will fill the sta­dium.”

Over the past year or so, ISIS has suf­fered crip­pling mil­i­tary de­feats in Iraq and Syria. But the ji­hadi group has been us­ing so­cial me­dia and en­crypted mes­sag­ing ser­vices to en­cour­age fol­low­ers to tar­get spec­ta­tors at the World Cup. An­a­lysts say that se­cu­rity at the sta­di­ums will be tight but that crowded fan zones around the are­nas will be far harder to lock down and could be vul­ner­a­ble to Isis-in­spired “lone wolf ” at­tacks. Such as­saults, which re­quire min­i­mal plan­ning, have taken place in London and Manch­ester in Eng­land, Barcelona in Spain and in Rus­sia, killing dozens of peo­ple.

Just be­cause ISIS says it will wreak havoc at the World Cup doesn’t mean it will, but se­cu­rity an­a­lysts worry the event may be too at­trac­tive a tar­get for ISIS mil­i­tants to re­sist—es­pe­cially given the group’s loss of ter­ri­tory. “A suc­cess­ful at­tack [in Rus­sia] would pro­vide a tremen­dous pro­pa­ganda boost for the Is­lamic State and its fight­ers and sup­port­ers,” says Matthew Hen­man, head of Jane’s Ter­ror­ism and In­sur­gency Cen­ter at the London-based IHS Markit anal­y­sis com­pany, in a recent re­port.

One of the main risks: bat­tle-hard­ened Rus­sian ji­hadis with ex­pe­ri­ence cre­at­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices who have re­turned home from Syria and Iraq. Ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, around 4,000 Rus­sian cit­i­zens, mainly from the coun­try’s North Cau­ca­sus re­gion, which in­cludes Chech­nya, have fought along­side ISIS in the Mid­dle East.

Although Is­lamist at­tacks in Rus­sia have their roots in the vo­latile North Cau­ca­sus, fight­ers loyal to ISIS have the abil­ity to strike far be­yond the area. One World Cup host city at risk is Nizhny Nov­gorod, just 250 miles from Moscow. On May 4, an ISIS mil­i­tant wounded three po­lice of­fi­cers dur­ing a shoot-out there. The ji­hadi fighter was killed by se­cu­rity ser­vices af­ter bar­ri­cad­ing him­self in an apart­ment just 9 miles from the sta­dium where na­tions such as Ar­gentina, Eng­land and Swe­den are due to play. In Fe­bru­ary and last Novem­ber, Rus­sian se­cu­rity forces also shot dead ISIS mil­i­tants plot­ting at­tacks in the city.

World Cup host cities in Rus­sia’s south are also at risk, says Grig­ory Shve­dov, chief ed­i­tor of the Caucasian Knot on­line news agency, which mon­i­tors Is­lamist mil­i­tant ac­tiv­ity in Rus­sia. Shve­dov says recent ISIS at­tacks on Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Churches in the North Cau­ca­sus in­di­cate that the ji­hadi group is gear­ing up to at­tack

“If fans go to Moscow’s OUT­SKIRTS look­ing for ad­ven­ture, they could get their asses KICKED.”

sen­si­tive tar­gets. Vol­gograd, which bor­ders the North Cau­ca­sus re­gion, is a par­tic­u­lar se­cu­rity con­cern. Last Novem­ber, two po­lice of­fi­cers were hos­pi­tal­ized with stab wounds af­ter an Isis-in­spired as­sault in the south­ern Rus­sian re­gion, which will host matches in­volv­ing Rus­sia and Spain, as well as Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. Four years ear­lier, in De­cem­ber 2013, twin sui­cide bomb­ings by Is­lamist mil­i­tants killed 34 peo­ple in Vol­gograd. Those at­tacks were car­ried out by the Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate, a now-de­funct ji­hadi group whose for­mer mem­bers have since sworn al­le­giance to ISIS.

Be­cause of th­ese po­ten­tial threats, the Krem­lin is step­ping up its coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions. State se­cu­rity ser­vices “liq­ui­dated” 12 mil­i­tant cells and ar­rested 189 sus­pects be­tween Jan­uary and April of this year, says Alexan­der Bort­nikov, head of the FSB. The FSB has also ordered chemical plants and other high-risk fac­to­ries to be shut down dur­ing the month­long event.

Rus­sian se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in­sist, how­ever, that the tour­na­ment will pro­ceed safely, point­ing to their suc­cess in pre­vent­ing at­tacks on the 2014 Win­ter Olympics. But there are some cru­cial ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween Sochi and the World Cup. “The Sochi Olympics took place at a time when Is­lamic State was not ac­tive in Rus­sia,” Shve­dov says. “To­day, un­for­tu­nately, it is ex­tremely ac­tive, es­pe­cially in the North Cau­ca­sus re­gion.”

ISIS did not claim its first at­tack in Rus­sia un­til 2015, when it tar­geted a tourist site in the coun­try’s south, killing one per­son. Since then, the group has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for a se­ries of bomb­ings and shoot­ings, in­clud­ing 20 in the North Cau­ca­sus, ac­cord­ing to Caucasian Knot.

The World Cup also presents ji­hadis with a larger num­ber of po­ten­tial tar­gets than the Sochi Olympics, says Mark Ga­le­otti, an ex­pert on the Rus­sian se­cu­rity ser­vices at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions in Prague. “Sochi was es­sen­tially a sin­gle se­cur­able point,” he says. “But at the World Cup there will be too many peo­ple, at too many sites. If any­one wants to make a ter­ror­ist at­tack, you don’t need to hit a sta­dium, you just need to hit, say, a bus depot near a sta­dium. And sud­denly that be­comes an at­tack on the World Cup.”

‘Stal­in­ist-era Show Trials’

ji­hadis aren’t the only ones hop­ing to use the world cup to ad­vance their cause. As the tour­na­ment ap­proaches, Putin’s

crit­ics are hop­ing to put a global spot­light on what they call wide­spread hu­man rights abuses, in­clud­ing state-spon­sored vi­o­lence against po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

The Krem­lin ap­pears to be spooked by such plans. In an ap­par­ent bid to pre­vent demon­stra­tions in front of the in­ter­na­tional press, Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties have banned protests in host cities through July 25. And an­a­lysts say the gov­ern­ment is do­ing its best to make sure there is no public dis­sent even be­fore that law kicks in: Alexei Navalny, the op­po­si­tion leader, was jailed for a month on May 15 on protest-re­lated charges. Sergei Boyko and Rus­lan Shaved­di­nov, two mem­bers of Navalny’s anti-cor­rup­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, were locked up later that month for the same amount of time; Navalny’s press sec­re­tary, Kira Yarmysh, was handed a 25-day sen­tence. Their crime? Tweet­ing about protests.

“The World Cup will be a cel­e­bra­tion of Putin’s eter­nal em­pire of the se­cu­rity ser­vices,” says Maria Alyokhina, a mem­ber of Pussy Riot, the anti-putin punk band and art col­lec­tive. “Peo­ple who come should re­al­ize that they are com­ing to a coun­try where peo­ple are beaten at protests, tor­tured in jail and in po­lice sta­tions, and where there are very many po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.”

Among those al­leged po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers: Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film di­rec­tor. A Rus­sian mil­i­tary court im­pris­oned him for 20 years in 2015 on ter­ror­ism charges, though he says it was just re­venge for his op­po­si­tion to the Krem­lin’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. Sentsov had brought food to Ukrainian sol­diers whom Rus­sian troops had block­aded in­side their bases dur­ing the in­va­sion. Pros­e­cu­tors said that he and Alexan­der Kolchenko, his co-de­fen­dant, set small fires at the Crimean of­fice of Putin’s rul­ing United Rus­sia party and in the en­try­way to a Com­mu­nist Party of­fice. They also ac­cused them of plot­ting to blow up a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Sev­astopol, the Crimean cap­i­tal. Both men de­nied the charges.

Crit­ics say the ev­i­dence against them was flimsy. The pros­e­cu­tion’s main wit­ness with­drew his tes­ti­mony, say­ing he had been tor­tured by in­ves­ti­ga­tors into mak­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing state­ments. The court also dis­missed Sentsov’s al­le­ga­tions that he had been beaten by se­cu­rity forces, rul­ing in­stead that his bruises and scratches were the re­sult of a sup­posed fond­ness for sado­masochis­tic sex. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional likened the court hear­ing to “Stal­in­ist-era show trials,” while a host of in­ter­na­tional film di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Wim Wen­ders, signed an open let­ter to Putin call­ing for Sentsov’s re­lease. Hu­man rights groups say al­most 70 Ukraini­ans are being held in Rus­sia or oc­cu­pied Crimea on po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated charges. The Krem­lin in­sists there are none.

On May 14, a month be­fore the World Cup open­ing cer­e­mony in Moscow, Sentsov launched an in­def­i­nite hunger strike, de­mand­ing “the re­lease of all Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers held on Rus­sian ter­ri­tory.” Other ac­tivists are at­tempt­ing to high­light their causes as well. In May, 14 hu­man rights groups signed an open let­ter to FIFA, urg­ing it to put pres­sure on Rus­sia to se­cure the re­lease of Oyub Ti­tiev, the head of the Me­mo­rial hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion in Chech­nya. Although no matches are tak­ing place in the re­gion, FIFA has ap­proved its cap­i­tal city, Grozny, as a train­ing base for the Egyp­tian na­tional team.

Chechen po­lice de­tained the 60-year-old Ti­tiev in Jan­uary for al­legedly pos­sess­ing 6 ounces of cannabis. He could now face up to 10 years in pri­son. His sup­port­ers say the charges were trumped

“The WORLD CUP will also be an at­tempt to soften Putin’s IRON MAN rep­u­ta­tion.”

up on the or­ders of of­fi­cials loyal to Ramzan Kady­rov, the Chechen leader. Apti Alaudi­nov, the Chechen deputy in­te­rior min­is­ter, has pre­vi­ously en­cour­aged po­lice of­fi­cers to frame Kady­rov’s “en­e­mies” us­ing sim­i­lar tac­tics. “Plant some­thing in their pocket,” he said, in com­ments that were broad­cast by Chechen tele­vi­sion. Shortly be­fore Ti­tiev’s ar­rest, masked men torched Me­mo­rial’s of­fice in In­gushetia, a south­ern Rus­sian repub­lic that neigh­bors Chech­nya. A spokesper­son for Kady­rov was un­avail­able for com­ment.

Founded in 1989 by So­viet dis­si­dents, Me­mo­rial has gained in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for ex­pos­ing both So­viet-era re­pres­sion and modern-day abuses. But the hu­man rights group says the cat­a­lyst for the cur­rent clam­p­down was prob­a­bly Kady­rov’s loss of his In­sta­gram ac­count this past De­cem­ber. “The clo­sure of his ac­count is a mat­ter of Kady­rov’s im­age,” says Oleg Orlov, a Me­mo­rial founder. “When he feels of­fended, noth­ing else is im­por­tant to him—who­ever gets in his way must be de­stroyed.”

The U.S. Trea­sury De­part­ment sanc­tioned Kady­rov in De­cem­ber over al­leged hu­man rights abuses, in­clud­ing in­volve­ment in ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. Face­book, which owns In­sta­gram, said the de­ci­sion meant it was legally obliged to close down his so­cial me­dia ac­counts, which in­cluded threats against Krem­lin crit­ics; he had over 3 mil­lion fol­low­ers just on In­sta­gram. “We were held re­spon­si­ble for this by Kady­rov and his in­ner cir­cle be­cause we are one of the very few sources of in­for­ma­tion about rights abuses in Chech­nya,” Orlov says.

FIFA, which only adopted a hu­man rights pol­icy in 2017, says it is con­cerned about Ti­tiev’s ar­rest but has re­jected ap­peals for it to move its train­ing base from the Chechen cap­i­tal.

Me­mo­rial mem­bers hope that in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion on Ti­tiev’s case will em­bar­rass Putin into or­der­ing Chechen au­thor­i­ties to re­lease him. An­a­lysts say the for­mer KGB of­fi­cer is the only per­son in Rus­sia able to ex­ert any in­flu­ence on Kady­rov, who of­ten waxes lyri­cal about his love for the Krem­lin leader. “The World Cup is very im­por­tant for the Krem­lin,” says Katya Sokiri­an­skaia, who once ran the Me­mo­rial of­fice in Chech­nya. “If in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, es­pe­cially FIFA, raise the case of Ti­tiev at high lev­els, then we hope that Putin will in­ter­vene and set our col­league free.”

Among the Thugs

while some krem­lin crit­ics hope to use the world cup to high­light their griev­ances, oth­ers want to ruin Putin’s tour­na­ment al­to­gether by call­ing for an in­ter­na­tional boy­cott of the event. Yet with this month’s kick­off, not a sin­gle one of the coun­tries due to take part has with­drawn its na­tional team. Even London, which has ac­cused Putin of or­der­ing a hit on Sergei Skri­pal, a for­mer Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who spied for MI6, has balked at miss­ing out on world soc­cer’s big­gest com­pe­ti­tion. (The Krem­lin de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tions.) In­stead of an out­right boy­cott, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has re­fused to send an official del­e­ga­tion to the World Cup. The Bri­tish royal fam­ily is also snub­bing the tour­na­ment.

When Kady­rov feels OF­FENDED, noth­ing else is im­por­tant to him—who­ever gets in his way must be DE­STROYED.

So far, only Ice­land has joined Eng­land in re­fus­ing to send a gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion to Moscow for the World Cup’s open­ing cer­e­mony. And Putin prob­a­bly isn’t con­cerned. “He is ac­cus­tomed to bad re­la­tions with the West,” says Kolesnikov, the Carnegie Moscow Cen­ter an­a­lyst. “He can get by with­out del­e­ga­tions. What’s im­por­tant is that the soc­cer players come.”

What’s also im­por­tant is that fans—par­tic­u­larly Rus­sian fans— be­have in the stands. In recent years, far-right sup­port­ers have un­furled swastikas at sta­di­ums, and in 2010, thou­sands of soc­cer hooli­gans and ul­tra-na­tion­al­ists ri­oted near Red Square af­ter the mur­der of a fan by a res­i­dent of Rus­sia’s mainly Mus­lim North Cau­ca­sus re­gion. Rus­sian soc­cer of­fi­cials have taken some steps to tackle racism. In 2017, they ap­pointed Alexei Smertin, a for­mer na­tional team cap­tain, as their en­voy against dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But prob­lems re­main. In March, Rus­sian fans di­rected racist chants at France’s Ous­mane Dem­bélé, N’golo Kanté and Paul Pogba dur­ing a friendly match against Rus­sia in St. Peters­burg. FIFA fined the coun­try $30,000. “In­ci­dents in recent months show how racism is still deeply part of the fan cul­ture in Rus­sia,” says Pavel Kly­menko, who helps mon­i­tor in­stances of fan dis­crim­i­na­tion for the Foot­ball Against Racism in Europe net­work.

Like­wise, soc­cer hooli­gans have gained a ter­ri­fy­ing rep­u­ta­tion in Rus­sia since go­ing on a rampage dur­ing the Euro 2016 tour­na­ment in France. But most ex­perts be­lieve se­cu­rity forces will not al­low a re­peat of such vi­o­lent scenes; the World Cup is far too im­por­tant for Putin. Sources within the soc­cer hooli­gan scene say the po­lice have been warn­ing known trou­ble­mak­ers they could face long stretches in pri­son if they do any­thing to harm the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional im­age. (The sources asked for anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter.) “I think they’ll pre­vent trou­ble at the World Cup,” says Vladimir Ko­zlov, the author of Foot­ball Fans: The Past and Present of Rus­sian Hooli­gan­ism. “If fans go to Moscow’s out­skirts look­ing for ad­ven­ture, they could get their asses kicked, but that’ll have noth­ing to do with soc­cer hooli­gan­ism.”

Home Field Ad­van­tage

with all the talk around the tour­na­ment of ji­hadis and geopolitics, it’s some­times easy to for­get that this is a sport­ing event. Rus­sians are ex­cited that the world’s top soc­cer stars will per­form in their coun­try, but there is al­most zero chance their na­tional team will win. Rus­sia is one of the low­est-ranked squads tak­ing part in the World Cup, and it has not pro­gressed past the event’s ini­tial group stages since the col­lapse of the So­viet Union. “Who are you go­ing to sup­port when Rus­sia gets knocked out?” is a pop­u­lar joke among soc­cer fans in Moscow.

The Krem­lin can’t in­flu­ence events on the field, but with a lit­tle help from FIFA, it is leav­ing noth­ing to chance else­where. Even the mi­nor de­tails are being taken care of. One ex­am­ple? That pro­mo­tional video of Putin and In­fantino, the FIFA pres­i­dent, kick­ing a ball around. While In­fantino’s soc­cer skills were im­pres­sive, some sug­gested that clever video edit­ing had greatly ex­ag­ger­ated Putin’s abil­i­ties. (FIFA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment about the video.)

“This is all about prov­ing to the world that Rus­sia can stage suc­cess­fully an event of this mag­ni­tude,” says Vik­tor Shen­derovich, a well-known Rus­sian writer and soc­cer fan. “The soc­cer is of se­condary im­por­tance. For Putin, the pro­pa­ganda comes first.”


Some Krem­lin crit­ics have called for a boy­cott of the tour­na­ment, but so far that hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized. Clock­wise from left: Prince Wil­liam speaks to players on the Bri­tish na­tional team; Zakharova, the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman; and the in­te­rior of a rail­way sta­tion in Nizhny Nov­gorod.


Be­cause of a po­ten­tial threat from ji­hadis, the Krem­lin is step­ping up its coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions. Above: A view of the Mor­dovia Arena in Saransk; op­po­site page from top, Rus­sian Sports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko and masked men near Sev­astopol in Crimea.


Putin’s crit­ics are hop­ing to put a global spot­light on what they call wide­spread hu­man rights abuses in Rus­sia. From top: A man res­cu­ing a child in Syria; op­po­si­tion pro­test­ers in­veigh against Putin; men carry an in­jured per­son on a stretcher af­ter the 2017 at­tack on the St. Peters­burg Metro.

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