Iceland’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in history this year, but the country’s top government officials will not be traveling to Russia to mark the achievement, remaining home in protest of the nerve-agent attack earlier this month on Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, two Russians who were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, England, and remain in critical condition.
“Among the measures taken by Iceland is the temporary postponement of all high-level bilateral dialogue with the Russian authorities,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Monday. “Consequently, Icelandic leaders will not attend the FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer.”
“The Salisbury attack constitutes a grave violation of international law and threatens security and peace in Europe.”
Skripal was arrested in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain’s MI6 and released in 2010 as part of a prisoner swap; he has lived in England ever since. The British government has accused the Kremlin of organizing the March 4 attack, which is thought to have exposed as many as 130 people to the nerve agent, and announced shortly thereafter said that members of the Royal Family — including Prince William, president of the English Football Association — would not be attending the World Cup.
Australia, Denmark, Japan, Poland and Sweden are expected to announce similar travel bans for the June 14-July 15 event, according to Inside the Games. Polish President Andrzej Duda already has announced that he will not attend the Opening Ceremony in Moscow. While making no specific announcements about the World Cup, the U.S. State Department is urging Americans in general to “reconsider travel” to Russia because of terrorism threats and harassment of U.S. citizens. (The American men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup.)
On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it was joining nearly two dozen other countries in expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal attack, with 60 Russians expelled from the United States alone. British Prime Minister Theresa May called it the “largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
Russia has denied any connection to the nerve-agent attack.
In 2014, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attended a World Cup match between the United States and Ghana in Brazil (he also was on hand for the Opening Ceremony four years earlier in South Africa). A number of foreign political dignitaries attended the 2014 final between Germany and Argentina, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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