With the World Cup underway in Russia, the host country is naturally enjoying a lot of international attention. Conspicuously absent from that coverage, however, are Moscow’s many transgressions since it won the bid in 2010 to host. The Russia of 2018 probably wouldn’t even get the chance.
Russia won the bid on June 8, 2010, three days before the World Cup kicked off in South Africa. Back then, things were different. U.S.-Russia relations weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible, either. It was a year after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to “reset” relations with Russia. (That was a miserable failure, by the way.)
In the eight years since, Russia’s offenses have accumulated, to say the least.
To start, Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 while the Sochi Winter Olympics provided a distraction.
This harkens back to August 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia during the Beijing Summer Olympics. Today, Russia occupies 20 percent of Georgian territory and continues to annex it, bit by bit.
In addition to annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia instigated a war in Donbas, Ukraine. Now four years later, the war continues, having claimed more than 10,000 lives. Moscow still backs pro-Russian separatists, sustaining the conflict in doing so.
A year later, in 2015, Russia decided to support Syrian President Bashar Assad, and launched air strikes in his country. Reviving the Syrian civil war (already four years old at this point) began a more long-term conflict among Russia, Syria and the United States. Moscow’s bombing campaign has proven particularly destructive. It has killed thousands of innocent Syrian citizens; destroyed medical facilities; and levelled houses, businesses, and hospitals.
In 2016, the U.S. held its presidential election, in which Russia largely interfered. The interference was massive, and quite unique - a double threat. It manifested itself through Facebook ads designed to create a rift in American society. In addition, pro-Trump and anti-Clinton news stories were broadcasted across Russia. This year in the U.S. primary elections, special counsel Robert Mueller has proven that Russia is interfering once again.
To add insult to past injury, Russia struck Ukraine in 2017 in another capacity - cybercrime. The calamitous cyberattack, NotPetya, was part of Russia’s effort to destabilize Ukraine even further than in the past. Billions of dollars of damage ensued, and the entire globe suffered.
Then this year, Russia committed a crime against the United Kingdom, and relations with both the U.K. and U.S. deteriorated. In March, a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. Evidence proved Russia responsible for the attack. Because the attacks were a threat to U.K. sovereignty, the U.S. and more than 20 European Union allies, including the U.K., expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats from their borders.
Russia also has persecuted opposition figures within its own borders. These persecutions range from the Polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, to the blatant murder of Boris Nemtsov, to the multiple imprisonments of Aleksei Navalny. Moscow will do whatever necessary to rid itself of these and many other foes of the Kremlin.
Circumstances on the domestic front have also changed much since 2010. For one, the Russian people have suffered under the Putin regime, whether they realize it or not. Putin and his cronies steal more from Russians’ paychecks each year for their personal use, exhibited in their superfluous and ostentatious estates and palaces.
Additionally, the pursuit of democracy is under constant threat. Elections are rigged. Bribes and ballot-stuffing are prevalent, and Putin allows no true opposition candidates to run against him.
Russia has also dealt with the Olympics doping scandal this past year, which resulted in its eligible athletes being forced to compete under the neutral Olympics flag, rather than the Russian flag.
Much has changed since 2010. If the decision for Russia to host the World Cup had been made this past year, FIFA likely would not have granted it the honor. Russia needs to change its actions for the better - for the sake of its own citizens, as well as many others around the globe.
Alexis Mrachek is a researcher in Russian and Eurasian issues in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.