It´s unclear who started the mess. The British and Russian presses have opposite versions of the events, stating (or suggesting) that violence would have started on the opposite side. According to report of English Daily Mail, whose site has many strong violence images, the brawl at Stade Velódrome began after the end of the match when Russian hooligans wearing balaclavas burst into the British area and tore their flags, caunsing fight and big run. But there have been clash in Marseille streets on previous day (10), with many witnesses saying that the Russians gathered in organized groups to create turmoil and played every kind of object present in the streets and some even using knives.
A report of the Russial newspaper Pravda said that the confusion in the stadium began with political provocations and offenses by the English and that a Russian flag was torn, what it would result in their reactions. That would have been witnessed by two British sport journalists. Another Russian source, Russia Today, citing internet reports, said that Russian and British hooligans would have gathered to confront local fans, most of them "black and Arabs", and that when there was a fight between Russian and British was at initiative of the latter.
At night after the match, fourty French police raded hotel where Russian fans were hosted. The officers would be armed, entered the rooms and registered fans with photos and ID copies.
The violence resulted in a fine of 150 thousand euros to Russia. UEFA threatened with disqualification of Russian and English national teams in Euro if their fans to engange in new brawls. England wasn´t fined.
The deportation of the Russian from France commented in Pravda isn´t as "partial" as it seems. The event began on June 14th, when a bus with Russian fans went from Marseille to Lille was stopped by police. The vehicle was held up for a day. Of the 43 people detained, 20 were released, 20 were taken to deportation and another three were waiting for Justice. In this bus was the Russian Supporters Union (RSU) delegation, whose leader was Alexander Shprygin, one of the deportees. The deportation of the detainees was on the 17th.
Shprygin isn´t an ordinary fan. He has a long record as cheerleader, political agitator, sporting events organizer and relations with the Kremlin. Dynamo Moscow fan, he´s also founder and leader of the nationalist organization Russian Supporters Union of 2007. He was part of Russian oficial delegation that visited Euro host cities in March this year. At this time local delegations of Toulouse and Marseille refused to receive Shprygin on the grounds that he would have problems with police. He´s also part of local commettee of the World Cup 2018 to the games in Moscow. When travelling to Euro in an chartered flight, six members of RSU delegations had their visas in France denied.
The Fare Network organizaton, linked to UEFA and FIFA and responsable for monitoring discrimination and violence in football fans, says that Shprygin is one of main responsable for introduction of Nazi practices and symbols in the games since 90´s, and that he would be linked to far-right groups, ultranationalists and would have intimate relations to Russian senior politicians. On May Fare would have warned UEFA about the Russian leader accreditation in the organization, which responded already to screen their accredited.
The proximity of Shprygin to Russia´s official sporting bodies helps to explain (not justify) the undiplomatic reaction of Lebedev and Mutko on violence in Marseille. In the day of the brawl, Lebedev supported hooligans through twitter saying that "the lads defended the honor of their country and did not let English fans desacrete our motherland". Also said that "I don´t see anything wrong with the fans fighting", and completed: "Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!" Mutko was in the game Russia X England and was filmed applausing the Russian fans after the game and brawl. He commented that there wasn´t fight among football fans in the game, that it was an "overkill" and that "ereything was alright". The Minister talked to Shprygin and didn´t say anything about the fight. Only congratulated group for "victory", a possible reference to the brawl at stadium as the game ended tied at 1-1. Later Mutko downplayed the situation and said the violence of some fans was a "disgrace for the country".
Shprygin is also close to Vladimir Putin. In 2010 the cheerleader was photographed along the Russian president in a tribute to a Spartak team´s fan murdered in Moscow. He has also been in meetings cheared by Putin, as in January 2012 when were present then FIFA and UEFA´s presidents, Joseph Blatter and Michel Plattini. It´s not possible to know exactly how close Shprygin and Putin are, but at the cited meeting the president referref to the cheerleader as "Sasha", diminutive of Alexander, suggesting some intimicy between the two.
In adition to the explicit support of Lebedev and the minimizing damage of Mutko, in Russia the reaction to the fans arrests and violence was of criticism to the police action and the alleged bias of the authorities to treat with the Russians. The Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has heavely criticized the fans arrest saying they were "absolutely unacceptable". He also said that French authorities didn´t informe the embassy or consulate in Marseille that would make interception of the fans bus, and that the informations were known only through social media. Despite admitting the "unacceptable behavior" of some Russian fans, Lavrov criticized the provocative atittude of English, and said that French authorities were willfully ignoring their behavior and expected equal treatment for both groups. The Kremlin´s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said he expected for a fair investigation about the clashes in Marseille.
Vladimir Putin, who was at the Economic Forum of Saint Petersburg, criticizes the Russian hooligans, saying the fight with English was a "desgrace" and hoped the law was equally apply to all involved. The president, however, made an ironic comment saying "I truly don´t understand how two hundred of our fans could beat up several thousand English". It was a clear reference to the information disclosed in local press that a few Russians have placed many Englishmen to run.
The repeated emphasis by the Kremlin that the French authorities should give equal treatment to both Russians and other nationalities show the distrust of the country´s leaders on Western politics. The same is valid to the press.
The report rises the question of existence of relationship between the ultras, extremist groups and the Kremlin, and how the state encourages the actions of such groups. It says there´s no consensus among researchers about the level of Kremlin´s control on hooligans, some saying that among them predominate ordinary people, other saying that they were created by FSB, successor to the KGB secret service.
An expert heard by the Herald explained that Kremlin has a cooptation policy of nationalis groups, including the ultras. He says that the youth group Nashi, created by the government, for example, is composed by fans members of the Moscow teams CSKA and Spartak. But the episode that solidified Kremlin´s relationship with football fans was a protest held on December 11th 2010 in Red Square, in Moscow, bringing together between six and seven thousand people. The trigger was a Spartak´s fan murder two days before in a fight with a gang of Caucasian immigrants. The protest was called by extremist organizations as Movement Against Illegal Immigration, xenophobic group known for publishing the rejection of immigration and organize marches in defense of "white" against "color people". There was clashes with police, attacks on people of non-Slavic appearance and thirty wounded. On 21st, Vladimir Putin was at fan´s grave to lay flowers and pay him tribute. In a speech he pointed that "extremists" were trying to infiltrate the football fans, and urged the fans to "let nobody manipulate you". It was in this tribute that Shprygin appeared alongside Putin.
After been deported from France on June 17th, Shprygin took a surprising attitude: quickly returned to the country and was arrested again on 20th. The arrest was reported by the spokesman of Ministry of Interior of France and took place at Toulouse stadium in the match between Russia and Wales.
Shortly before being arrested, Shprygin talked by phone with the French news agency AFP. He said that would have been informed by French authorities that wasn´t deported, but expelled. So his visa in European Union was still valid. He also said that had the tickets to watch the game. The problem was that his ban was valid on French territory. Hence his arrest. To show how returned to France without being barred, Shprygin posted photos on twitter of an European airport that would be Barcelona and said he arrived in the country by land through "an uncommon rout in the evening twilight".
Meanwhile, three other Russians were sentenced to more than two years in jail. These are probably three hooligans who were in the RSU bus held on 14th, when 20 were liberated and other 20 deported. The arrest has angered the Russian authorities, who called the French ambassador in Moscow for consultations.
The return of the RNU´s leader to France was a bold gesture and defiance of European laws and, in general, Western, especially when it comes to leadership involved in criminal acts such as the violence in Marseille.
The Shprygin intimacy with the Russian government in clear, and it´s very likely (although it can´t come to conclusions with informations available here) that Russian group soccer fans and hooligans receive direct Kremlin´s support. This support became clear when RNU members went to watch Euro in France with an chartered plane and Shprygin quickly returned, clandestinely, to the country. It´s not possible to know who exactly is financing actions like these, as well as what would be the state or private sectors that support the Russian hooligans. This is beyound the scope of this analysis. Anyway, the close connection with the high-ranking politicians of the Russian government, like direct connection between Shprygin, Lebedev, Mutko and their promixity with Putin strenghtened by preparations for the World Cup 2018, denotes that Russian hooliganism receive, yes, state support.
It´s of utmost irony Putin´s statement in tribute to the Spartak Moscow´s supporter murdered in 2010 when he said that "extremists" were trying to infiltrate in football fans and asked to the fans not leave "handle". It was the Kremlin´s chief asking to care what Kremlin itself was doing. This is very representative of the Russian authorities behavior, who make a double play in society and apply the same strategy in Europe, as in the example of the hooligans action in Marseille.
It´s not possible to know if the hooligans actions were deliberately combined with Russian authorities. Anyway, what´s matter are their actual effects. The brawl in Marseille was the opportunity for the Kremlin, with it´s politicians and ministers, claimed the French authorities "equal treatment" for Russians and denounced their allegied bias. The resulting friction was another chapter in the complex political plot which Moscow tries to involve the West, creating political and social tensions in expectation to divide it, throw it against itself and then offer a "solution" to the problem. In this context the Shprygin´s role, consciously or not, is clear. He´s much more than cheerleader: he´s an agent that took the field to put in place the Kremlin´s strategy of dividing to better dominate.
* published in Portuguese on June 22th 2016.