Hooligans 'think they are Kremlin foot soldiers'
Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30
Ultra-nationalist and schooled in their country's historical grievances, Russian soccer hooligans see themselves as fighting the Kremlin's geopolitical battles in miniature when they clash with foreign fans at the Euro 2016 tournament.
"Our fans in Marseille are a copy of Russian foreign policy," Professor Sergei Medvedev from Moscow's Higher School of Economics, wrote on social media after Saturday's clashes around the England-Russia game in the French city of Marseille.
Describing the mentality of the Russian hooligans, he said: "We won't win the championship but let's at least put on a brave face, beat some people up, and have the whole world talking about us."
Not subject to the kind of travel bans imposed on English fans who have committed violence, Russian hooligans are free to travel if they have enough money and can get a Schengen visa giving them access to much of Europe.
They represent a strand of nationalism which has become more strident since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and state media ratcheted up its narrative that the West is enemy number one.
Their conduct in Marseille drew praise in some political circles where sport is seen as an extension of what the Kremlin casts as Russia's battle for influence on the world stage.
"I don't see anything terrible about fans fighting," Igor Lebedev, a nationalist who is a deputy speaker in the lower house of parliament and a member of the Russian Football Union's executive committee, wrote on social media.
"On the contrary our guys were great. Keep it up!"
French authorities said about 150 hard-core Russian fans took part in the violence in Marseille and that some of the Russians involved had been trained to fight.
Meanwhile, a 24-year-old hooligan has been handed a five-year football banning order for his involvement in violent disorder ahead of England's opening match against Russia.
Daniel Warlow, of Spring Meadow, Tipton, West Midlands, did not contest the application by the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of West Midlands Police yesterday.