With the World Cup kicking off in less than a month and tensions with the west at their worst level in decades, Observer writers and Russia experts go behind the spin to analyse the host nation’s social and political landscape

It is the most politically charged World Cup in recent memory: Russia, resurgent under Vladimir Putin, is set to host the 32-team tournament next month amid scandals ranging from sports doping to spy poisonings. Relations between Moscow and London are at their coolest since the cold war and the recent events in Salisbury even led to brief speculation (aided by Boris Johnson) that England could skip the tournament, recalling the Olympics boycotts of the 1980s.

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