England football fans travelling to the 2018 World Cup in Russia may be targeted in reprisal attacks after the Kremlin was accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal, a senior Tory MP has claimed.
Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the foreign affairs select committee, warned that those travelling to Russia should be “very careful”.
Russian football fans have a history of targeting their English counterparts and Mr Tugendhat was concerned they may choose to use the recent accusations surrounding Mr Skripal’s poisoning as a reason to reignite violence.
“We do need to be very, very careful for British fans who are travelling there that they are not in any way caught up in the politics of this,” Mr Tugendhat said on BBC Radio 4.
“And, I’m afraid the danger of Russia responding to British fans for actions taken by their government is all too real.”
Mr Skripal, a former Russian spy turned double agent, is in intensive care with his daughter, Yulia, after they were exposed to a nerve agent.
The attack has drawn immediate comparison to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who fell ill after ingesting radioactive polonium-210 believed to have been administered in a cup of tea.
Investigators are understood to be reviewing the death of Mr Litvinenko, a former officer in Russia’s security service, to see if there are any similarities between the modus operandi of that case and the attack on Mr Skripal.
Russian football fans have previously attacked English supporters and at Euro 2016 there were a number of incidents between the two groups.
Reports suggested that Russians perceived England fans to be the “top dogs” of football hooliganism and wanted to prove this was not the case.
Following a 1-1 draw between the two nations in Marseille, Russian fans were seen to charge at their English counterparts, leading supporters to attempt to flee to safety as they were punched and kicked.
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At the time, a leading Russian football official praised the fans involved in the violent clashes and encouraged them to “keep it up”.
Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union [RFU] executive committee, said the incident was not the fault of his country’s fans.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting. Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!” said Mr Lebedev, who is also an MP of the Liberal Democratic party in Russia and deputy chairman of the Russian parliament.
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home.
“What happened in Marseille and in other French towns is not the fault of fans, but about the inability of police to organise this kind of event properly.
“Our fans are far from the worst; it’s unclear why a lot of media are trying to say our fans’ actions were shameful. You should be objective. If there had been no provocation from English fans, it’s unlikely our fans would have got into fights in the stands.”