In stark contrast to England, Russia appeared profoundly unqualified to host a monthlong tournament expected to draw well over three million spectators. For starters, Russia didn’t have a great soccer tradition; its team hadn’t even qualified to play in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, thanks to an embarrassing loss to Slovenia.
.. More important, it didn’t have adequate stadiums or other infrastructure, and since it was already going to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, there were serious questions about how it could afford to build what was required.
.. To most observers, Russia didn’t seem like a serious threat to England’s hopes, but Mr. Steele’s confidential sources told a very different story.
Mr. Putin, then serving a four-year term as prime minister, saw hosting the World Cup as a vital way to project his country’s power, and his own, around the world. He was determined, sources said, to win the bid at any cost.
.. Russian government officials and oligarchs close to Mr. Putin had been enlisted to push the effort, cutting shadowy gas deals with other countries in exchange for votes, offering expensive gifts of art to FIFA voters and even dispatching Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who owns the London-based Chelsea Football Club, to South Africa to pressure Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president.
.. Multiple generations of FIFA administrators were brought down, accused of collectively taking hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes.
.. Court records from the case run into the thousands of pages, and prosecutors spent weeks laying out every tangled intricacy of their digging in a six-week criminal trial in federal court in Brooklyn late last year. But Russia, strangely, seems to have been completely absent from any of it.
.. An attempt by FIFA itself to audit the bid after the fact was stymied when it was discovered that a football foundation linked to Mr. Abramovich, Mr. Putin’s oligarch pal, destroyed the Russia bid team’s computers.
.. The country has somehow found a place at or near the center of nearly every geopolitical conspiracy, most of them considerably more insidious than where a quadrennial soccer tournament should be held.
.. On June 14, the Russian national soccer team will square off against Saudi Arabia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for the opening match of the 2018 World Cup. Lacking talent in midfield, a viable scoring threat, an organized defense or a well-regarded coach, the Russian squad hasn’t had any notable success since 2008 and qualified this time because host nations get an automatic spot.
Roman Abramovich, Britain’s best known Russian oligarch
.. Since he bought Chelsea—a purchase that made him a household name—Abramovich, more than any other Russian billionaire, has personified to the British public what oligarchs do and are. They buy soccer teams. They buy art. They get divorced. They are absentee governors of remote parts of Siberia. Their fortunes rise and fall according to their relationships with Vladimir Putin.
.. If the U.K. has decided it is no longer willing to take Abramovich’s money or—at the very least—to help him transform it from one asset class into another, this is quite a departure.
.. passengers on the flight were subjected to the kind of bureaucratic oddities that I have sometimes come across when reporting in Eastern Europe.
.. According to anti-money-laundering campaigners, in the last two decades around a hundred billion pounds of Russian money have come through London and been reinvested in property, commodities, and financial instruments
.. Between 2008 and 2015, the British government granted so-called investor visas to some seven hundred Russian citizens, who were each willing to spend two million pounds in the country.
.. During the same period, Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-connected businesses hired some of London’s finest bankers and lawyers to protect them from the closing circles of international sanctions and financial regulations.
.. On March 16th, two days after May expelled the diplomats, Russia raised four billion dollars from sovereign-debt sales on London’s bond markets.
.. The previous day, the Russian oil giant Gazprom had raised seven hundred and fifty million euros in bond sales in the city. “Business as usual?” the Russian Embassy tweeted.
.. On June 14th, the soccer World Cup kicks off in Moscow.
.. An estimated thirty thousand England fans will travel to the country to watch the national team play