New outbreak of anti-Russia propaganda over 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Excerpt from the briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 25, 2017

We have to comment on the politically motivated anxiety among the Western political establishment and media over the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia.

We have seen our Western colleagues' passions boiling before, over the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. History is repeating itself. Frightening forecasts were made about the 2014 Games by the political establishment and media in some Western countries, and predictions of total disaster in terms of games' organisation and the host country. They claimed that Sochi was not ready for the games and pointed to corruption, the poor quality of construction, and the allegedly unfriendly and inhospitable Russians. They turned everything in this country so as to present it in a bad light. All of you remember how the Games were held, the mood and emotions of the athletes and journalists as the Games ended, let alone the spectators, fans and the national teams. Not a single frightening forecast came true, and that flow of absurdity was washed away by the truly spectacular atmosphere in Sochi.

You will witness now (but not participate, I hope) an information campaign that will grow in scale as the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia draws nearer. You will see claims that the sports facilities are not ready for the Cup and the Russian organisers are unfriendly and unprofessional. Like in the case of Sochi, human rights issues will be scrutinised, though not through a magnifying but through a distorting glass. You may remember the horrible stories about human rights violations in Sochi the Western media reported. Exactly the same is happening now.

It appears that the Norwegian Football Association is showing even deeper concern than the others. On May 16, it sent a letter to FIFA, also signed by three other North European national football associations, asking the international football association to investigate the alleged use of migrant labour to build the St Petersburg Stadium in conditions that can be described as modern slavery, that is, without registration, for starvation wages and without any healthcare services. The Netherlands had previously expressed similar concerns. I have great respect for the work of civil society institutions and human rights organisations. But I am against these organisations exploiting such issues as this inappropriately, as instruments of political pressure or blackmail, or as it happened in this case, in a slanderous information campaign.

More and more attempts are being made to intimidate football fans with the horrors they will allegedly encounter in Russia from the thuggish football fanatics who are allegedly ready to tear foreign fans to pieces. We have hosted many sports events before, including the Sochi Olympics, which was an extremely complicated event. The games' conditions were very complex: they were both unique [geographically] and difficult organisationally. But we got everything done. You must remember the Sochi residents and people from all over Russia who came to Sochi to help. Do you recall any aggression on their part? Or any thuggish fans? What are we talking about? There are fans in all countries, and they can be divided into aggressive and normal ones.

As I said, we are not the first country to organise such an event. We are just doing what many other countries have done before us. Yet we have been subjected to such attacks as this one before each large international sports event we host. The lies that have been fabricated! There have been many incredible reports about the organisation of events in Russia, the alleged dangers facing tourists here, all kinds of mud-slinging, the absurd photographs that turned out to be doctored images or were not taken in Russia. But this did not prevent us from hosting many international sports events. I believe the same tactics are being used now. We urge you to disregard such fakes.

As for the employment and residence terms of the North Korean workers mentioned in the letters sent to various international organisations, which took the alleged human rights violations in Russia so closely to heart, the employment and residence terms of migrant workers are regulated by national labour and migration laws, and the migration authorities that are responsible for monitoring compliance with these law. In other words, we've got people overseeing the rights of migrant workers in Russia. I suggest that our Western colleagues take a look at other countries, where the working conditions of migrant workers leave much to be desired. Strangely, nobody seems to be interested.

It is regrettable that this close attention to human rights has become a selective instrument used for political purposes, as I said.

I suggest that European countries - we are talking about their recent actions now - as well as other countries stop inventing fake news but instead read a recent report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights about the current migration situation in the EU, in particular the discrimination and inhumane treatment of migrants in the European democracies. Just look at what is happening in this sphere in the countries I have mentioned. Maybe the Netherlands or Norway should prepare and send petitions to international organisations about exploitation in their countries? This could be interesting. I suggest that Norwegian organisations survey their own country's compliance with democratic values and human rights.

It is even more surprising to see the Norwegian media write about the Russian authorities' efforts to artificially bolster the people's pride in their country and its greatness. To me, this sounds like jealousy. Are they confusing us with someone else? We don't need to artificially bolster the feeling of national pride. But we will never allow anyone, especially anyone abroad, to try to denigrate it. There are many things we can be proud of. John Kerry has recently told American students to learn Russian. There are opportunities for doing this, in Russia or Cuba. I suggest that you study Russia's history, its map and contribution to global development, and then you will be able to avoid making such embarrassing gaffes.

We can organise a briefing and visits to sports facilities for the Norwegian media and other journalists working in Northern Europe and Russia. Other journalists are invited as well. We can also hold briefings with the organisers of the World Cup matches and give a tour of the Cup's facilities. We can do anything, but please, stop writing nonsense. Just ask us for the information you need.