5/13/2018 12:38:52 PM

Neo-Nazi hooligans haunt Russia ahead of World Cup

Neo-Nazi hooligans haunt Russia ahead of World Cup

Moscow: Robert Ustian knows that neo-Nazi hooligans who have run riot through Russian football for decades could take him out on any given day.

The 34-year-old CSKA Moscow supporter sends out handfuls of secret spotters to the Red Army club's matches to chronicle racist abuse.

Ustian then forwards the videos of Nazi salutes and chilling Waffen-SS banners to the authorities -- and waits to see what might befall him next.

"We are opposing not the nicest guys in the world," Ustian told AFP in an English-language interview.

"I think those guys only know my identity because I try to hide all the others (the other spotters). They have families, children," he said. "But we have come too far and even if something bad happens to me, there are people who will take over."

The thugs haunting Ustian are the same ones President Vladimir Putin has been doing everything in his power to make disappear before the World Cup kicks off on June 14.

The no-nonsense Russian security forces' tactics have ranged from intimidation to something best described as preventative arrests.

Hundreds -- some think thousands -- have either been rounded up or forced to sign good behaviour promises to make sure nothing sullies Putin's showpiece.

But what happens once the football party is over and the global media's glare shifts elsewhere is as uncertain as Ustian's fate.

Russian hooligans first grabbed international headlines when a few hundred of them attacked England supporters at Euro 2016 in France.

The bloody battles in Marseille left two English fans critically injured and crowned the Russians as the tsars of the football underworld.

But the mayhem that shocked Europe had been brewing across ramshackle Russian stadiums since shortly after the Soviet Union's collapse.

Angry and poor youths who spent their days in boxing and wrestling gyms stretching from one-factory towns in the Urals to Putin's native Saint Petersburg formed "firms" around football clubs.

These bands of "ultras" were modelled on English ones from the 1970s and espoused a poisonous mix of white nationalist pride.

Stadiums became arenas for the gangs to show their muscle and attract followers. The authorities allowed them to prosper in return for staying out of politics.

It was an arrangement that almost came back to haunt Putin eight years ago.

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