Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oil tycoon-turned-Kremlin foe who spent a decade in prison and now lives in exile, says fellow Kremlin critics should not boycott the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, slated to kick off June 14 in Russia.
Russian aggression abroad, along with domestic human rights violations, has “obviously caused a serious split, both inside Russian society and in the West,” Khodorkovsky said.
“There are thoughts about boycotting it, and thoughts about just turning a blind eye to everything happening in Russia during the event. But I think that boycotting the championship would be a big mistake if you think about teams going to Russia, and people and fans visiting the country,” he said. “The championship is a way to show everyday Russians that Russia is not surrounded by enemies, and that the Kremlin has largely invented them.”
On the other hand, Khodorkovsky added, “I do believe Western leaders would be making a mistake if they were to visit the man who has created a fully authoritarian regime and has surrounded himself with a criminal clique.”
“This would be a mistake, because it would be seen as encouragement, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin should not be encouraged,” he said. “Therefore, there should be a very clear stance: ‘Yes, we are visiting the Russian society, but we are not visiting the Kremlin criminal clique.’ ”
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch recently called on world leaders to boycott the tournament’s opening ceremony unless Putin takes steps to protect Syrian civilians.
Russia, which hosts the World Cup for the first time this year, is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s seven-year war, and the New York-based watchdog argued that Moscow’s responsibility in the suffering of Syrian civilians should not be overlooked.
The organization also said the monthlong World Cup tournament, which would be viewed by billions worldwide, will take place amid the worst domestic “human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era.”
Its statement followed a call in April by dozens of European parliamentarians who signed an open letter pleading with EU governments to boycott the tournament, calling the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain “just the latest chapter in Putin’s mockery of our European values.”
On Thursday, a letter signed by families of the 40 Australians who were killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 said recent revelations that a Russia-based military unit almost certainly fired on the commercial airliner cast a “dark shadow” over the tournament, and that Australians should boycott this year’s event out of respect for the dead.
This story originated in VOA’s Russian service.