9 Jun 2018

UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow: Our top priority for FIFA World Cup is to make sure British fans stay safe

UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about the level of cooperation with Russia as part of preparations for the FIFA World Cup, his expectation as to the number of British fans who will come to Russia and other aspects of preparing for the tournament.

Question: How many football fans do you expect to come fr om England for the World Cup to Russia?

Answer: First of all, of course, England like all teams will play in the group stages. They are playing in Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kaliningrad. It is quite difficult to tell exactly how many English fans will come, because of course some people - not from England - follow the England team as well. But we are working on the basis that it will be about 10,000. So, a big number. What we have been doing for the last two years is preparing our arrangements at the Embassy to support the fans and to support the team. Our objective, our priority is to make sure that the British fans that do come to Russia have a great time, that they enjoy the tournament, that they stay safe, and that they will go back having enjoyed their time in Russia. So, we have been working with the football authorities and the Russian police for two years now to make sure that that happens. I took part in a video conference on Thursday morning with the Foreign Secretary just to check our arrangements for that. On the police links, what happened is that UK police officers and football specialists have been to Russia a number of times. They have invited their counterparts back to the UK a number of times. They have got to know how each side works, they have exchanged information and experience, and of course there will be a team of British policemen here in Russia making sure that the cooperation with the Russian police goes well.

Q.: How would you describe in general the coordination of law enforcement officials with Russia, because Foreign Secretary Johnson said that the coordination was not sufficient?

A.: The political relationship is very, very complex, as you understand, but as far as the preparations for the football are concerned, we are happy with the level of cooperation. A lot of work has gone into it on both sides - of course you can always do more - and the test is what actually happens over the next month. But we think we are as prepared as we can be. As I said, our top priority, my top priority for the next month is to make sure the British fans that come to Russia have a great time, stay safe and go home having enjoyed their time.

Q.: Could please speak about the Memorandum of Understanding?

A.: This is really an important point. I signed on Thursday afternoon a memorandum of understanding between the UK government and the Russian authorities setting out how our police will work with the Russian police.

Q.: Do you have information on any problems that British people have in receiving free Russian visas?

A.: Russian visas... Well, Russian visas are a matter for the Russian government. I am not aware of any particular problems, but what we have been doing on our side for the last year or so is putting out advice to our fans who want to travel to Russia, pointing them towards what they need to do, say, need to apply for you ticket for the match, apply for your Fan ID. We also have a campaign of information for our own people which is called ‘Be on the Ball‘. Basically, it is a travel advice aimed at our fans to help our people, our citizens to stay safe while in Russia, the things you need to know if you want to stay safe in Russia.

Q.: Russian-British relations have been rather tense but 10,000 people coming from Britain. Do you expect any confrontation between Russian and British fans? And what is done to avoid such situations?

A.: Russia is the host of the championship, and it is Russia‘s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all of the fans from all of the 32 countries coming to Russia for the championship. Our job is to help Russia and help our citizens visiting Russia to have a good time and to stay safe. Of course, for all of us in the background is what happened in Marseille. Our intention, as I said, our priority, my primary interest over the next month is to ensure that our fans have a trouble-free visit and an enjoyable visit to Russia.

Q.: Are there any contacts besides the Interior Ministry, probably with the Foreign Ministry, on the issues related to the upcoming championship?

A.: We are in contact with all of the relevant authorities, all of them. My embassy is being strengthened. We have 12 members of staff coming in temporarily, they have their visas, we have jobs for them, we have a plan, we have been practicing that plan for over a year now, everybody knows what job they will do. We will send a team of staff to each of the cities wh ere our team will play. They will set up a temporary "embassy" in those cities - so, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod, then Kaliningrad, and others, if we get further. We call it a pop-up embassy. An embassy in a box.

Q.: Who of the British senior official should we expect in Russia for the championship?

A.: Our government made it very clear after the attack in Salisbury that there would not be members of the government, ministers or members of the Royal Family coming to Russia for the football. It is unfortunate, but that is our position. Something very, very serious happened in Salisbury - we were attacked using a chemical weapon - and I am afraid that has created a problem in the political relationship. So there will not be senior representation from Britain for the championship, but we will do everything that we can, everything that we need to ensure that our fans have a great time here.

Q.: Are you a football fan? What do you expect? What will be the result for the England team in Russia?

A.: It is not my specialism. But of course what I am hoping for is that England plays Russia at Luzhniki in the final.