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The 2018 World Cup could lead to conflict on and off the pitch | The Economist

The football World Cup in Russia will be the biggest sporting event of 2018. President Vladimir Putin will use the tournament to further his geopolitical goals.

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In 2018, the eyes of the world will be on Russia. The country will host what is set to be the most watched sporting event of the year, the 2018 Football World Cup.

But it is also the year of presidential elections. As social tensions in Russia rise, both events will be watched with apprehension because sport in Russia often goes hand in hand with war.

In 1980, the Soviet Union hosted the Moscow Olympics. America and several other nations staged a boycott because just months earlier, the Russians had invaded Afghanistan. In 2008, Russia’s national football team unexpectedly beat the Netherlands sparking national celebrations. A few weeks later, Russia invaded Georgia

In early 2014, Russia staged the Winter Olympics in Sotchi. It was shortly followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine.

The football World Cup in June 2018 will be shortly after another major event in Russia. The Presidential election. Alexei Navalny is the opposition leader.

Mr Putin will win the election, but his legitimacy hangs not in securing the presidency again, it lies in his status as a 21st century Tsar. And that requires global victories on a global stage.

The point of the election in 2018 is not to offer Russian people a choice, but to show there is none. According to the constitution, the next term will be Mr Putin’s last as President. But the question of succession of power – and how it happens – will be central to Russian politics.

Mr Putin has monopolised politics and the media. But Alexei Navalny has used social media to penetrate politics and break this monopoly. It’s because of Mr Navalny’s growing recognition that the Kremlin doesn’t want his name on the ballot paper, stops him campaigning and even puts him behind bars.

Yet, for all the Kremlin’s tactics, Mr Navalny is already changing the political landscape, forcing the Kremlin to respond to his agenda.

With all eyes on Russia in 2018, Mr Putin appears stronger than ever.

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