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Is flying to the World Cup in Russia dangerous?

On December 2, 2010 the Fédération Internationale de Football Association - better known as FIFA – announced that Russia was “chosen” to host the World Cup in June 2018. Russia’s ruler Vladimir Putin did not even bother to attend the meeting. He had paid the necessary bribes, so he already knew for a long time that Russia would host the World Cup.

At the time it was not foreseen how the world would look like in 2018. But it has changed a lot. Russia has supported the Syrian president Assad since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and prevented the Syrian population from getting rid of a brutal dictator.

In 2013 Russia started a hybrid war in eastern Ukraine, while in 2014 Russian troops occupied the southern autonomous region Crimea, which Russia subsequently annexed. It was the first time since World War II that European borders were changed by using military force.

The political and military situation is thus very different from that in 2010. Currently, economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia due to its aggressive behavior at its borders and elsewhere. Those sanctions may impact the transportation of national soccer teams and the possibility of soccer fans to visit the world cup matches in Russia in the summer of 2018.

Eight Russian airports that are likely to be used by World Cup teams in June are owned by entities targeted last week by new sanctions for what US officials describe as the Kremlin’s “malign activities” around the world.

The US government can take punitive action against foreign companies that do business with sanctioned entities. Therefore, teams that will be based near one of the affected airports as well as the airlines flying them may face problems.

The Polish national team will be based in Sochi during the tournament. It is planning to take a charter flight operated by Lot Polish Airlines to Sochi airport. The airline says it will consult lawyers because the airport is managed by Basel Aero, a company owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. And he is sanctioned by the USA.

Similar problems will arise in other World Cup host cities including Yekaterinburg and Samara. The airports of those cities are owned by the Renova Group, a conglomerate belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, who is also a sanctioned oligarch.

An unexpected result of the sanctions might be that teams and soccer fans will fly Russian carriers because they will hardly be exposed to the risk of sanctions. But teams and fans should be aware that flying in Russia is a kind of Russian roulette due to the widespread corruption of Russia’s kleptocratic rulers.

Related: “Russian roulette

Tags: World Cup soccer, FIFA, Vladimir Putin, US sanctions, corruption

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