Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has said that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's comparison of Russia's hosting of the World Cup with the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany was "disgusting" and "unacceptable."
"This is a completely disgusting statement. It is beneath the foreign minister of the country -- any country," Dmitry Peskov said on March 22. "Without a doubt, it is offensive and unacceptable."
On March 21, Johnson agreed with a British lawmaker who suggested Putin would try to use the soccer tournament to bolster Russia's image, much as Adolf Hitler did with the 1936 Olympics.
"I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right," Johnson replied, envisaging Putin "glorying in this sporting event."
The exchange came as a committee of British legislators discussed the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter with a nerve toxin in England on March 4.
Johnson reiterated Britain’s accusations that Putin's government was behind the attack, saying that the trail of responsibility leads to "those at the top" of the Russian state.
He spoke shortly after Russia again denied involvement and asserted that Britain or the United States could be to blame for the poisoning that left Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, in critical condition -- an incident that officials say was the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.
"The idea of Putin handing over the World Cup to the captain of the winning team; the idea of Putin using this as a PR exercise to gloss over the brutal, corrupt regime for which he is responsible; it fills me with horror," Labour MP Ian Austin said.
Johnson replied, "I'm afraid that's completely right, completely right."
"Your characterization of what is going to happen in Moscow in the World Cup, in all the venues -- yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right," added Johnson, who spoke of Putin "glorying in this sporting event."
Hitler came to power in 1933 and used Berlin's hosting of the 1936 Summer Olympics as part of propaganda for the Nazi regime, which had already brought in rules to ensure all athletics organizations in the country had an “Aryan-only" policy.
Peskov's reaction came as the British Council, a state-funded body that promotes British culture overseas, announced in a statement that it was closing its Russia branch after being instructed by Russia's Foreign Ministry to cease activity -- the latest in a series of tit-for-tat moves between London and Moscow.
After Russia ignored a demand that it provide an explanation of the Skripals' poisoning, Britain suspended high-level bilateral contacts with Moscow and announced that British ministers and the royal family will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.
London also expelled 23 Russian diplomats it says were spies, prompting Moscow to retaliate in kind, by ordering the same number of British diplomats to leave Russia.
Moscow then canceled an agreement to reopen the British Consulate in St. Petersburg and ordered the closure of the British Council.
"We deeply regret this and are grateful for your understanding," a statement from the British Council said. The council had worked in Moscow continuously since 1959.
Johnson said on March 16 that Britain has "nothing against the Russians themselves" and that there should be "no Russophobia as a result of what is happening."
"Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin," he said, adding that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Putin made the decision "to direct the use of a nerve agent... on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War."
The Skripals were found collapsed on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4, a day after Yulia, 33, arrived from Moscow to visit her father.
Britain says they were exposed to a Soviet-designed military-grade nerve agent from a series known as Novichok.