NEWS
12/05/2018 07:00 SAST | Updated 12/05/2018 11:58 SAST

Fears Of 'Militia-Type' Russian Hooligans Targeting England Fans At World Cup

It comes amid heightened tensions between London and Moscow over the poisoning of former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal on British soil in March.

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Russia fans let off flares during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group B match at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille

Fears are mounting England fans will be targeted by “organised, armed and extremely violent” Russian gangs at the World Cup this summer. 

Shadow Sports Minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has written to the Foreign Office to sound the alarm over “militia-type” far-right hooligans poised to attack during the tournament next month in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 

It comes amid heightened tensions between London and Moscow over the poisoning of former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal on British soil in March.  

Allin-Khan voiced particular concern over the threat to LGBT and ethnic minority fans and demanded ministers guarantee “extra safeguards”. 

There will be militia-type Russian hooligans who are organised, armed and extremely violent. Labour's Shadow Sport Minister, Rosena Allin-Khan

Her letter followed news that the British diplomat responsible for fans’ welfare at the event was expelled from Russia in April in a tit-for-tat bid to punish the UK over the Salisbury attack row. 

Foreign Office minister Harriett Baldwin insisted this week she had received “assurances” from Russia and that co-operation on fan safety has continued despite the diplomatic stand-off.

But Allin-Khan told HuffPost UK Baldwin’s broad statements were little comfort to the 10,000 England fans who have tickets. 

She said: “England fans deserve to be safe when they visit Russia, however I have deep concerns over the assurances given so far by both UK and Russian governments. 

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Labour's Shados Sport Minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has written to the Foreign Office ahead of the tournament next month 

“Recent reports state that the British diplomat in Russia responsible for England fans’ safety was expelled over the Skripal poisoning. This doesn’t fill me with confidence that Russia are cooperating.

“There will be militia-type Russian hooligans who are organised, armed and extremely violent. We need more than just verbal assurances. If violence flares up, I do not want England fans being used as scapegoats. 

“We need to know exact details of any protection that will be in place and what specific precautions have and will be taken to safeguard fans, particularly those of colour and from the LGBT community.”

Allin-Khan also cited concern after scenes of violence at Euro 2016 when Russia played England in Marseille. 

Two England fans were left in a critical condition after three days of violence in Marseille after a group of Russia fans charged at England supporters inside the Stade Velodrome.

Speaking to a BBC documentary called Russia’s Hooligan Army, a hooligan known as “Vasily the Killer” alleged the violence was sanctioned by the Kremlin. 

Shadow Sports Minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has written to the Foreign Office seeking assurances over the safety of England fans

Baldwin said the UK would have “at least as” many of its own police officers in Russia during the tournament and co-operation was “strong”. 

Appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week, Baldwin said Russia was “responsible” for running a safe World Cup in June and had given its “assurances” to Fifa and the UK government.

She said the threat of hooliganism had been a focus of two years of planning and official in Moscow have drawn up a blacklist of known football hooligans.  

But LGBT fans will remain worried.  Hate crimes against LGBT people have doubled since Russia created a law banning gay “propaganda”.

The 2013 legislation, which prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” towards minors, has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech while visiting the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia. Vladimir Putin and Gianni Infantino have inspected the Fisht Olympic Stadium, hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Baldwin was questioned on what advice she would give to LGBT fans. 

Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said: “We are not talking about fans being a little bit cautious, we’re talking about fans realising that the police force there may not be on their side.

“That the law enforcement authorities may actually be working against them and that the state that they would expect to turn to in terms of protection may be the organisation that is going to repress them the harshest.”

Baldwin replied that she “accepts” those comments but there had been “assurances”.