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World Cup opener guest list set to be largely ex-Soviet affair

Vladimir Putin’s strained ties with leaders across the western world means the audience of presidents and prime ministers for the World Cup opener looks set to be a heavily former Soviet affair.

The Kremlin has released a list of those who will join Putin for Thursday’s opening ceremonies and it features a large helping of central Asian autocrats and the heads of the breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with a smattering of foreign leaders from Africa and South America.

But there will be some media darlings, like the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the new Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who swept to power earlier this year after popular street protests.

The Kremlin has said that politics have no place in sport. But in an apparent move to match Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Putin will host a top official from North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly.

Russia is not rolling out the red carpet all the way, however. In an interview with a Moscow radio station on Wednesday, the head of the Duma’s committee on women, family, and children urged Russian women not to sleep with foreigners during the upcoming games.

Vladimir Putin with Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan.



Putin has also invited the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/Tass

“Their children will suffer for it. They’ve suffered in the past, since the Soviet period,” said the lawmaker Tamara Pletnyova. She was apparently referring to children, many of mixed race, born during the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

Pletnyova went on to clarifiy, “It’s good if they’re one race, but if they’re of a different race, then it’s worse. We should bear our own children. I’m not a nationalist, but all the same.”

Guests for the opening ceremony, featuring a performance by Robbie Williams, will include the leaders of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, said a Kremlin spokesman. The leaders of Bolivia, Panama, Rwanda and the president-elect of Paraguay will also attend.

The ceremony is just part of the run-up to the big opener on Thursday night between Russia and Saudi Arabia, a contest between the two lowest-ranked teams in the tournament that has been called “El Gasico” because of the two countries’ reliance on energy exports. Putin and Bin Salman will meet to discuss Opec ahead of the match.

Asked whether Putin would invite Donald Trump to the World Cup, the Kremlin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Putin “will be happy to see all guests here in Moscow and that, of course, applies to the guests from the United States at the highest level”.

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