England fans could be told not to travel to the Russia for the Fifa World Cup this summer, Boris Johnson has suggested as he compared Vladimir Putin hosting the competition to Hitler presiding over the 1936 Olympics.
The Foreign Secretary said he was appalled by the idea of President Putin “glorying in this sporting event”, adding that the comparison to the Games held in Nazi Germany was “certainly right”.
Giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee, Mr Johnson said that whilst it would be wrong to “punish” English footballers by boycotting the tournament, the prospect of fans travelling to Russia was not certain.
He also revealed that the British diplomat responsible for organising English fans' travel arrangements had been expelled from the country as part of the Kremlin’s tit-for-tat response to the UK’s stance on the Salisbury attack.
Describing the scenario of a World Cup hosted in Putin’s Russia as “emetic”, Mr Johnson said he would be demanding reassurances from the Kremlin that fans’ safety is guaranteed.
During the committee hearing, the Russian foreign ministry responded by accusing the British Government of deliberately concealing evidence relating to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia two weeks ago.
At a briefing for foreign diplomats in Moscow, Vladimir Yermakov questioned whether nerve agent had been used at all, adding that “all the facts are being concealed intentionally” and that the evidence “could have vanished”.
The heightening of diplomatic tensions follows a furious war of words between Government ministers and Kremlin officials in recent days, with Mr Johnson last week suggesting that it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Vladimir Putin ordered the attack.
Amid the dispute, Britain has ejected 23 undeclared Russian intelligence officers in a bid to dismantle the Kremlin’s espionage network.
In response, the Russian Federation took reciprocal measures, but provoked further anger when it announced it would be closing the British Council in St Petersburg.
Today, Mr Johnson reiterated the allegations against Mr Putin, telling MPs that the trail of evidence led “inexorably” to the Russian President’s door.
“As we saw in the case of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the trail of responsibility for such assassinations and assassination attempts does lead inexorably back to the Kremlin,” he continued.
“It is our view that when it comes to the use of a Novichok type nerve agent in Salisbury...not long after President Putin himself has said that such people would choke on their own 30 pieces of silver or deserve to be poisoned…the pathway, the chain of responsibility, seems to me to go back to the Russian state and those at the top."
Contrary to claims that Mr Putin would be “mad” to order such an attack so close to the Russian election, Mr Johnson said it had sent a clear message to his opponents that betrayal would not go unpunished.
"I think first of all it was a sign that President Putin, or the Russian state, wanted to give to potential defectors in their own agencies that this is what happens to you if you decide that you support a country with a different set of values - such as our own. You can expect to be assassinated,” he added.
"The reason why they picked the UK is very simple. It is because this is a country that does have that particular set of values, that does believe in freedom and democracy and the rule of law and has time and again called out Russia over its abuses of these values."