Arsenal drawn against CSKA Moscow
UK-Russia relations will come into focus
As Britain braces itself for expected retaliation from Moscow after expelling 23 Russian diplomats, the two countries’ relationship will come under sharper focus in two football matches next month.
On Friday, English Premier League club Arsenal was drawn against CSKA Moscow in the Europa League quarterfinals.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsions on Wednesday following the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
The UK’s Foreign Office recently updated its travel advice to Britons visiting Russia, warning of the “possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time” due to “heightened political tensions.”
“You’re advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publically on political developments,” say the Foreign Office’s website.
“While the British Embassy in Moscow is not aware of any increased difficulties for British people traveling in Russia at this time, you should follow the security and political situation closely and keep up to date with this travel advice.”
2018 World Cup
Arsenal travels to Moscow for the second leg of its quarterfinal match on April 12, with the first leg taking place in London on April 5.
There was crowd trouble in CSKA Moscow’s second-leg round-of-16 clash against Lyon in France on Thursday, reportedly leaving five police officers injured, though it was the French team’s fans who have been widely condemned for the violence.
Fans from another of Moscow’s teams, Spartak, were involved in violent clashes with Athletic Bilbao supporters in Spain earlier this season, resulting in the death of one police officer.
Arsenal, CSKA, and the UK’s Metropolitan Police were not immediately available for comment when asked by CNN if they had any security concerns over the two games.
However, European football’s governing body UEFA told CNN: “UEFA is a sports organization whose aim is to promote and develop football, which can benefit and provide enjoyment for large sections of society. As a consequence, we are committed to remain politically neutral and will not to get involved in governmental affairs.”
The body says it will work closely with all clubs and local authorities “to guarantee safety for all involved.”
The Europa League is Europe’s second tier competition but it provides the winner entry into next season’s Champions League, UEFA’s most prestigious tournament.
In this season’s Europa League group stages, Arsenal and FC Koln faced a UEFA probe after after 20,000 fans of the German club descended on London.
Despite only being given 3,000 official tickets, thousands of other Cologne fans flocked to London as the Metropolitan Police described the incidents as “sporadic disorder inside the ground after away fans gained access to seating assigned to Arsenal supporters.”
Later this year Russia will host the 2018 World Cup, which England will play in.
Russian hooligans caused trouble during the 2016 European Championship finals in France, clashing with rival supporters.
Both Russia and England were threatened with expulsion from the tournament following clashes between rival fans in Marseille.