Russia’s grasp on English football

Russia’s grasp on English football

Rory Smith writes:

Both Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, have raised the possibility of striking back at Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, by targeting the assets of oligarchs living in London. Alexei Navalny, the most prominent opposition figure in Moscow, has suggested such a move would win public approval in Russia. Send a message by punishing those close to Putin, those who benefit from his power, goes the logic.

But any move against the oligarchs would not simply be a case of seizing the Belgravia townhouses or freezing the bank accounts of a cadre of unfamiliar names. It would not be neat, or quiet. It would be high-profile, complex, almost unimaginable. Russian money has laid down the deepest of roots in British life.

[Roman] Abramovich [owner of Chelsea] is not the only link between English soccer and Russia, of course. Across London, another oligarch, Alisher Usmanov, owns 30 percent of Arsenal. His longtime business partner, the British-Iranian Farhad Moshiri, is now the largest shareholder at Everton, where the training ground bears the name of USM, a holding company established by Usmanov.

A third Premier League team, Bournemouth, has been bankrolled by a Russian benefactor: Maxim Demin, a former trader and petrochemical magnate, bought the financially stricken club in 2011, and has since transformed it into a Premier League mainstay. Two other teams — Portsmouth and Reading — have been in Russian hands in recent years.

Manchester United, meanwhile, announced in 2013 a five-year deal that made Aeroflot, the Russian state airline, its official carrier. A year earlier, Chelsea had unveiled Gazprom, Russia’s energy monolith, as its official energy partner. Gazprom is also one of the principal sponsors of the Champions League.

The rationale behind all of those deals, according to Paul Brannagan, a lecturer in sport management and policy at Manchester Metropolitan University, is Russia’s desire to gain what is known as “soft power” in the West. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports:

Britain has evidence that Russia has been manufacturing and stockpiling the nerve agent used in an attack on a former Russian double agent on British soil, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said on Sunday.

Mr. Johnson said Russia had been actively researching the use of nerve agents for use in assassinations within the past decade.

The foreign secretary’s statements, made in a BBC interview, came 12 days after the former spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unconscious on a bench in the quiet city of Salisbury, in southwestern England, on March 4.

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain announced the following week that the poison used in the attack was Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists for use on NATO troops.

The identification of Novichok as the weapon has become the linchpin of the British case for Russia’s culpability in the poisoning. Though one of the scientists who developed the nerve agent, Vil Mirzayanov, published its chemical structure and now lives in the United States, it is extremely dangerous to manufacture. He said in an interview that the only laboratories known to have fine-tuned the process were in Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union. [Continue reading…]

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