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Navalny Jokes That Four-Star Accommodations Await World Cup Rowdies

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Can rowdy English fans who land in Russian jails during the World Cup really expect flat-screen TVs, special menus (including nonalcoholic beer), and a parting gift?

That was the suggestion made by Russian opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny shortly after he emerged from a Moscow jail on June 14, although the comment was obviously made in jest.

Navalny was freed from the Moscow detention facility in good spirits after serving a 30-day jail sentence for staging an unsanctioned protest in Moscow.

Navalny called a series of rallies in the Russian capital and other cities on May 5, just before President Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a new term. Demonstrations under the slogan "He is not our tsar" took place throughout the country.

Navalny walked free as the Russia-hosted World Cup was set to open on June 14.

"I'm with you again after a 30-day business trip," he sarcastically wrote on Instagram. "I'm so happy to be free."

Russia has deployed thousands of police to cities hosting World Cup matches to deal with an influx of potentially rowdy fans. (file photo)
Russia has deployed thousands of police to cities hosting World Cup matches to deal with an influx of potentially rowdy fans. (file photo)

Navalny noted how jail conditions have improved ahead of the World Cup.

"It's clear that authorities are not ruling out having to arrest drunk England fans for rowdy behavior, and they don't want to add insult to injury," he wrote. All the cells were given a 'euro' renovation. Bars were painted. Instead of holes in the floor (sorry for such details) they installed toilets," he wrote.

"In the prison yard, they've set up [soccer] goals and handed out real soccer balls."

"The food's better than in a restaurant. And there's even a waiter -- a cadet from the police academy walks about handing out menus. You can pick from two choices just like the service on an airplane," the 42-year-old Navalny joked, adding that kosher and halal food were available as well as nonalcoholic beer.

"Since the detention center employees don't know English, they have recruited trainees, female students from the Maurice Thorez foreign language school. They walk around in special clothes, something between a police and a flight attendant uniform," Navalny continued.

"So far, there are no foreigners and the students are bored. They complain loudly, demanding massive arrests so they can meet people. It's crazy. In the cells, they've installed huge LCD screens, so the prisoners can watch the World Cup matches. Everyone released gets a gift: a little law book and either dominos or backgammon with the World Cup logo. I chose backgammon."

Official Denial

Just for the record, a Russian official put the joke to rest, officially denying to the popular Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets that any such conditions exist at the facilities where Navalny was jailed.

Russia has deployed thousands of police to the 11 cities hosting matches to deal with an influx of potentially rowdy fans and other security threats such as the risk of Islamist terror attacks.

Army trucks, thousands of police and security fences have been deployed in Moscow as the clock counted down to the first match later on June 14 between host Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Domestic Crackdown

U.S. media have reported how Russian authorities have cracked down on their own domestic hooligans with ABC news noting that ringleaders have been monitored -- with phones tapped -- and even visited by police and officers from the FSB security service informing them to behave.

A court in Moscow convicted Navalny in May on charges of organizing an unauthorized rally and resisting police, He was ordered jailed for 30 days.

The vocal Putin foe was one of hundreds of people apprehended in Moscow and more than 1,600 people detained nationwide during May 5 demonstrations against Putin's inauguration for a new six-year term two days later.

Navalny was released hours later but was ordered not to leave Moscow while the cases against him were pending.

He already served several jail terms on charges related to organizing antigovernment protests and was convicted twice on financial-crimes charges he says were trumped up by the Kremlin as retribution for his opposition to Putin.

Navalny was barred from taking part in the March 18 presidential election due to the convictions he and supporters contend were fabricated to keep him out of the electoral process.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.