A senior Russian police official has claimed his French counterparts were unable to handle Russia’s “normal” football fans in Marseille this weekend because they are more used to policing “gay pride parades”.
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, made the comment on his verified Twitter account.
His comment follows an earlier outburst from a senior Russian football official and leading politician, who apparently praised his country’s hooligans for defending Russia’s honour.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” read a post on Twitter on an account in the name of Igor Lebedev.
“Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”
In two further tweets, Lebedev seemingly blamed the French authorities for the trouble that marred the Euro 2016 game between England and Russia, and criticised other Russian officials for speaking out against their fans.
The Press Association has been unable to confirm the account is genuine but Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union’s executive committee and an MP for the Liberal Democrat party, has subsequently repeated these sentiments to the Russian LifeNews agency.
Lebedev, who is also the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, said: “In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal.
“The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland.
“We should forgive and understand our fans.”
Lebedev’s Liberal Democrat party is known for its far-right, nationalist views, while LifeNews is considered to be close to the Russian establishment.
Investigative Committee spokesman Markin also retweeted a Russian news story about a call from the Football Supporters’ Federation to ban Russia, apparently mocking it as “cute”.
With Russia set to host the next World Cup, many football officials are deeply concerned about what appears to be a thriving hooligan culture in the world’s largest country, something the numerous pictures and videos posted by Russians on social media sites would appear to suggest.
But unlike Lebedev and Markin, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko is taking a more conciliatory line, admitting on Sunday that some of his compatriots had clearly come to Marseille to fight and their actions had “shamed” Russia.
This view was confirmed by the French authorities on Monday when Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin laid most of the blame for Saturday’s violence at the hands of 150 “extremely well-trained” Russian “ultras”.
European football’s governing body UEFA has already warned both England and Russia that any repeat of the mayhem in Marseille could result in them being thrown out of the competition, and Russia faces three charges for crowd trouble at the Stade Velodrome.
A decision on those three charges – for setting off fireworks and flares, fighting and racist chanting – is expected on Tuesday.
Both sets of fans are now heading to northern France for their next matches – Russia play Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday and England meet Wales in Lens on Thursday – and there are fears of more trouble between them, particularly as many England fans will pass through Lille, which also has a much bigger fan zone than Lens.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Football Policing, said: “We are very concerned about violent behaviour in France over the weekend.
“We know that troublemakers targeted England fans in an orchestrated way inflicting serious injuries. We also know that a small minority of England fans have let themselves down by responding with violence and anti-social behaviour.
“We are continuing to work with French police and Russian policing team to prevent further violence and support investigations to help bring offenders to justice.”
Roberts added that additional police from the UK have been sent to help the French in Lens and Lille.
“My advice to fans out in France is to keep yourselves safe and behave responsibly – do not retaliate to provocation and seek help from police if you are harassed or attacked,” he continued.
This echoes a message from England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Wayne Rooney via a video released on social media urging England fans to behave.
But some Russian fans have also joined the calls for calm.
“We strongly believe that such behaviour is not the norm for our citizens who are travelling to support the Russian national team in France,” the Russian Fans’ Embassy team said in a message posted on the Football Supporters Europe website.
“We are very sorry for those English people who have been injured and are now in hospital. We wish them the fastest recovery.
“We would like to emphasise the friendly communication and mutual respect that we have witnessed between the fans of Russia and England during their stay in Marseille.
“From our side, we are working to help all football supporters from both countries and to foster mutual respect together with a festive atmosphere at the tournament.”
French police have said that 20 people were arrested in Marseille and 10 face immediate trials. There were also 35 injuries, four serious.
Almost forgotten among all this is that the game finished 1-1.