Kremlin Damns Soccer Thugs as UEFA Threatens to Expel Russia

  • Putin spokesman rejects Russian officials’ backing of violence
  • Russia faces Euro 2016 ban if stadium hooliganism is repeated

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman slapped down Russian officials who lauded soccer hooligans involved in fighting with English fans after UEFA warned it will expel the nation’s team from the Euro 2016 championship if the violence is repeated.

“I can’t agree with these statements of my colleagues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. Russian fans were involved in “these outrages” along with supporters of other teams at the tournament in France, and their actions were “absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

The Union of European Football Associations fined Russia 150,000 euros ($168,000) and imposed a suspended disqualification from the competition over crowd disturbances, use of fireworks and racist behavior by its fans. The June 11 match against England in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome ended in a 1-1 draw. UEFA will lift the suspension and disqualify Russia “if incidents of a similar nature (crowd disturbances) happen inside the stadium at any of the remaining matches of the Russian team during the tournament,” the association’s control, ethics and disciplinary body said in a statement.

The Kremlin’s condemnation of the violence came after Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament, said the fans were “defending the honor of the country,” according to Life News. Russia hosts the World Cup for the first time in 2018 and is striving to improve its image amid allegations of hooliganism and racism among fans at games in its domestic league and doping allegations at the 2014 Olympics, which it hosted in Sochi.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” tweeted Lebedev, who’s an executive committee member of the Russian Football Union. “Quite the opposite. Well done lads, keep it up!”

‘Real Man’

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, also tweeted in response to criticism of the fans that Europeans were “surprised when they see a real man looking as a man should. They’re only used to seeing ‘men’ at gay parades.”

Russian supporters should “behave properly” at stadiums and in public places because a repeat of the disturbances “can lead to very serious consequences,” the Russian Football Union said in a statement after UEFA’s decision. “The Russian team as well as the millions of fans of our country shouldn’t suffer because of the reckless actions of individuals.”

Russia won’t appeal the fine or the suspended disqualification, Tass news service reported, citing Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko. Fans should obey the law in France and should not react to provocations, Peskov said.

French police stopped a bus near Cannes on Tuesday carrying 29 Russian fans to Lille, where Russia plays Slovakia on June 15, Tass reported. Officers examined the passengers’ documents to establish whether any had been involved in the violence in Marseille, Tass reported, citing an unidentified French regional government official.

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