Vladimir Putin may have sent Russian football hooligans to beat up English fans ahead of last week’s Euro 2016 match between the two nations, British government officials believe.
There were clashes around Stade Velodrome ahead of last week’s Euro 2016 match between England and Russia, and French authorities said between 150 and 200 Russian fans were responsible for the majority of the violence, which included clashes outside the stadium and an attempt by Russian fans to storm the English supporters’ side of the stadium.
At least 35 people were injured, the Independent reported, including four in serious condition, two of whom were put into a coma.
As the Guardian noted, there is a belief that the attacks were not a coincidence, but instead a concerted plan by Vladimir Putin to attack British citizens and create discord.
“Senior government officials fear the violence unleashed by Russian hooligans at Euro 2016 was sanctioned by the Kremlin and are investigating links with Vladimir Putin’s regime.
“It is understood that a significant number of those involved in savage and highly coordinated attacks on England fans and others in Marseille and Lille have been identified as being in the ‘uniformed services’ in Russia.
“The theory is that the sanctioning of hooliganism by Putin is a continuation of what has been described as Russia’s campaign of “hybrid warfare”. Whitehall experts fear the tactic is a ploy to demonstrate Russian strength while building on a narrative inside the country that the rest of the world is lining up against it.”
Another high-ranking British government official told the Observer that it’s hard to officially connect the hooligan attacks to Vladimir Putin but said his fingerprints are all over the violence.
“It is difficult to prove this was sanctioned by the Kremlin but we can see that a number of them are in the uniformed services in Russia,” the source said (via the Guardian). “It looks like a continuation of the hybrid warfare deployed by Putin.”
Mark Roberts, who serves as chief of Britain’s Euro 2016 policing, said he has never seen more coordinated attacks in 10 years of prosecuting football violence. The UK police noted that the 150 Russian fans were equipped with “gum shields, fingerless martial arts gloves and bandanas,” the Guardian reported. Video showed the hooligans working in groups to attack fans, with many of the attackers wielding weapons like pipes and wooden chairs.
Authorities in France are cracking down on the attackers. One of the leaders of the Russian hooligans, Alexander Shprygin, was already detained in France and expelled from the country. He has a connection to Vladimir Putin, as the two were photographed together at the 2010 funeral of a football fan, the report added.
Putin has already spoken out on the violence, laughing at the idea that the 200 Russian fans were not responsible for the attacks at Stade Velodrome.
“The fighting between Russian fans with the English, that is a disgrace,” said Putin (via Reuters). “I don’t know how 200 Russian fans could beat several thousand of the British.”
Putin went on to add that there was blame on all sides for the fighting.
“The European football cup is taking place at the moment, but I believe that people are paying more attention to the fan fights,” said Putin. “I guess the responsibility for such acts should be as personalized as possible.”
He continued, “And the way we treat the violators has to be the same. They have to all be equally treated.”
The European governing football body is also coming down hard on Russian hooligans for the Euro 2016 attacks. UEFA threatened to expel Russia from the Euro 2016 if there is more violence.
[Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky/AP Images]