By Paul Goble
At the end of last week, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Mariya Zakharova said the West has as its main goal now organizing a boycott of the 2018 World Cup, a statement quite likely issued so that when a boycott doesn’t happen, Moscow can claim victory and say the world has repudiated Washington and London.
But Zakharova’s remark has prompted Moscow commentators like Aleksey Polubota of Svobodnaya pressa to suggest that “it is difficult to believe” that the West would view disrupting the World Cup as its goal or think that doing so would achieve any of its ends. It has bigger plans and more means it will use to seek to achieve them, he says (svpressa.ru/politic/article/196767/).
Bogdan Bespalko, a member of the Presidential Council for Foreign Relations, says that in the existing “information war,” Moscow must “respond to any provocations from the West in a calm fashion,” especially because in his view, many Western populations do not support the policies of their governments toward Russia.
As far as any threat to boycott the World Cup in Russia this year, he continues, such a move is “only one of the occasions that can be used to dehumanize and demonize our country in the eyes of the Western populace.” According to him, such a policy so far has not been very successful.
“But in the future,” Bespalko says, “the West may provoke both more conflicts around the perimeter of our borders and in Russia itself, for example, in the Caucasus.” Russia will have to respond to such things and Moscow’s responses will become the occasion for new charges by the West against that. The same thing is true in the economic sphere.
A direct military clash between Russia and NATO is possible, the Kremlin advisor says, although neither side is prepared for it. “In the West, they think that Russia is still too strong to fight with. And we don’t need a war.” What we do need, Bespalko says, is a world where everyone plays by rules everyone agrees to rather than those imposed by the West.
After the disintegration of the USSR, he continues, “we agreed to play” according to the rules of others,” despite the fact that they could impose one set of rules on Russia and quite another on themselves and others. Moscow must recognize this and take steps to counter it in all directions.
For example, Bespalko says, “I do not understand why with us McDonalds is still registered as a store rather than a restaurant,” an arrangement that gives it significant tax benefits. It shouldn’t have them nor should other Western firms doing business in Russia under current conditions.
A second expert, Boris Shmelyov, head of the Center for Political Research at the Moscow Institute of Economics, says that the West won’t be able to organize a complete boycott of the World Cup even if it tries. And it won’t try that hard, he says, because that competition is “too petty a goal in the great geopolitical game the West is playing.
According to him, the West has “intentionally chosen a policy of balancing on the edge of war,” a particularly dangerous approach given that “neither side can make concessions to the other without a loss of face. Therefore,” Shmelyov says, “we must hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”