The historic World Cup victory over Spain sent much of Moscow into a frenzy of celebration and produced a rare moment of national unity.
But some Russians are still not convinced they can support their national team.

Many opposition-minded Russians feel the Kremlin is using the World Cup to bolster its prestige and deflect criticism of its human rights record and assertive foreign policy.

In the view of a minority, backing the national squad is tantamount to helping this agenda.

"This is politics, just politics, nothing else. Only [Putin] benefits from this football madness," opposition activist Alexander Osovtsov wrote on Facebook, repeating allegations that President Vladimir Putin "bought" the hosting rights to the World Cup through corruption.

He added that those now chanting "Russia! Russia!" are akin to those who did the same when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, or invaded Georgia in 2008.

A similar view was expressed by Arkady Babchenko - the stridently anti-Kremlin former war correspondent who recently stunned the global media by announcing that he had faked his own death in Ukraine to help uncover a Kremlin-backed plot against his life.

On Facebook, he accused those oppositionists who had cheered Russia's victory of "embracing the imperialist scum, under the same flag, united by joy at a shared victory".

Some even refused to believe Russia could beat Spain in a fair game. "Russia in the quarter-finals is a cause not for celebration, but for investigation," commented the prominent anonymous Twitter account Ugolok Tsinika ("Cynic's Corner").

'Loving your country is normal'

But such scepticism is not in fact shared by most oppositionist and liberal Russians, including prominent anti-corruption campaigner and anti-Kremlin protest leader Alexei Navalny.

In a series of excited tweets, he voiced delight at Russia's defeat of Spain ("YESSSSS!") and jokingly called demonstrations calling for Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev - who saved two penalties against Spain - to be given the Hero of Russia medal.

Mr Navalny's ally, Leonid Volkov, dismissed "conspiracy theorists who so fear the almighty Putin that they believe he can buy what cannot be bought".

Ardent opposition supporter Alexander Ryklin agreed, writing that anyone in top-level football trying to fix such a match would be taking a "terrible risk".

Another prominent opposition activist, Ilya Yashin, voiced anger at what he called the "online opinion-formers" talking of celebrating fans as "Russians gone feral from patriotism".

"Supporting your team at the World Cup is normal," he wrote. "It doesn't make you an accomplice in crimes that high-placed officials commit. Loving your country is normal. It doesn't oblige you to love the government and the president as well."

One of Russia's most prominent bloggers, Ilya Varlamov, called on people not to "confuse sports and politics, Russia and Putinism, the country and the state".


But some accuse the Kremlin itself of mixing sport and politics, citing remarks by Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov comparing Russian fans' celebrations to those after the Soviet victory of Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Mr Peskov stressed that he was not comparing victory in war to victory in sport, saying the latter "brings people closer, it doesn't divide them".

But this was not enough for some. "You cannot imagine a greater insult" to the memory of those who fell in the war, wrote journalist Arkady Dubnov.

Russian state media's World Cup coverage is a continuous loop of foreign fans praising the host country, along with hints that Western media have been caught out in unwarranted scare-mongering about Russia.

Government-controlled Channel One reported that Colombia supporters will outnumber England fans by two-to-one at their teams' last-18 match at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

It also quoted a tweet by England supporter Matt Maybury saying that the British media should be "ashamed of themselves for their clear propaganda".

This has been widely retweeted in Russia, including by Twitter accounts that bear the hallmarks of being bots, and has been highlighted in a report by Kremlin-controlled international media outlet Sputnik.

But some commentators believe the good-natured and celebratory nature of the World Cup could actually backfire on the Kremlin.

They argue that the contact with happy foreign fans undermines the feeling of being besieged by an innately hostile West that it is seen has having cultivated in past years.

"It turns out we have no enemies abroad," wrote commentator Igor Nikolayev on the website of independent radio Ekho Moskvy. "The World Cup is destroying one of the most important foundations of the Russian government."
World Cup 2018: Should I support Russia despite Putin?

It is an interesting question...

You know, especially after that victory over Spain, all of Moscow was out celebrating

as were other cities; and it's great, they deserve it, of course.

But, exactly what and who are the people celebrating, at the World Cup?

This is indeed Putin's World Cup

Everyone knows the Russian national football/soccer team is strongly pro-Kremlin.

Dmitry Tarasov even wore a Putin top under his team shirt for a match with Turkey back in 2016, and later took the shirt off to reveal it

He was not selected for this World Cup.

But, the point is, yeah, the team supports Putin. Not that they have a choice. Anybody who is somebody in Russia must demonstrate allegiance and loyalty to the Kremlin, everyday. Otherwise, at the very least, they will stop being somebody very soon, their career will be ended, at least, and if they really piss off the Kremlin, it may be even worse...

Anyhow, yeah, this is Putin's WC.

And while most people are happy, with the team performing as it currently is and plenty of the fans are unabashed about it

"Thank you, Putin!"

What is it like, say, for the families of people who are imprisoned right now, for participating in protests against the government?
Russian Protester Jailed For 18 Months Over March 26 Rally
Russian Activist Sentenced To Prison Over March 26 Protest
Anti-Corruption Protester Sentenced to 1.5 Years in Moscow
Russian protester gets one-year prison sentence for waving his leg in the air (while he was carried off by police)

Or, worse, what about the families of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky

journalist Anna Politkovskaya

liberal Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov

and many others, who will never return to their loved ones, because they, as I said, did piss off the Kremlin too damn much...

What about other activists and such people, who have to watch the Cup from exile, having had to flee Russia fearing for their own safety: For Vladimir Putin's exiled foes, World Cup in Russia evokes complicated feelings

Who the hell are all of these people to cheer for???

Hell of a question... I have no idea...