The Russian prazdnik – celebration – must not be ruined at any price as hosts prepare to give enemies five-star treatment

On a riverboat between the World Cup cities of Kazan and Samara last month, a Russian couple in their 50s asked earnestly whether “all these rumours” about Moscow’s poisoning of Sergei Skripal could lead the west to boycott or cancel the tournament.

“Russians don’t surrender to pressure like that, we push back hard,” said Yevgeny Prigov, a hefty businessman who trades in machine parts, echoing a popular Russian cliche.

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