Pop star Robbie Williams is “selling his soul” to “dictator” Vladimir Putin by performing at the World Cup, according to some of the UK’s leading Russia-bashers.
‘Party like a Russian’ singer Williams was confirmed earlier this week as one of the line-up to appear at the World Cup opening ceremony at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday.
Football-mad Williams described the chance as “a boyhood dream,” and invited “football and music fans to party with us in Russia… for an unforgettable show.”
But his decision did not go down well with some of the UK’s most seasoned Russia-haters.
Leading the campaign against Williams was US-born British financier Bill Browder, who made millions from investments in Russia but was convicted of tax fraud in absentia by a Moscow court in late 2017.
He criticized the UK pop star for “selling your soul to a dictator” by appearing at the football showpiece on Thursday.
“There’s lots of ways to make money Robbie Williams, but selling your soul to a dictator shouldn’t be one of them. Shame on you,” he tweeted. Browder is never one to miss an opportunity to rant about Russia, and the upcoming World Cup is like Christmas come early for the millionaire financier.
Several UK MPs were quick to join Browder in jumping on the Russia-bashing bandwagon over the singer’s decision.
Labour MP Stephen Doughty said: “It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and FIFA to sing at the World Cup opener,” according to the Guardian.
Fellow MP John Woodcock hit out at the former Take That star for apparently “handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup” just months after Russia supposedly poisoned a Russian former double agent on UK soil.
“We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah’s opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil,” he said.
“I understand why the national team felt they should go and compete but no patriotic public figure should be giving a thumbs up to Russia by acting in this way. Even at this late stage, I really hope Robbie will reconsider and pull out.”
Browder, 53, has led an anti-Russian campaign since having his visa annulled in 2005. His company, Hermitage Capital, has repeatedly been investigated for tax fraud, resulting in his conviction in absentia in Russia.
He was behind the passing of the Magnitsky Act in the US in 2012, named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in police custody in Moscow in 2009. Magnitsky had been working with Hermitage capital, and had been charged with collusion to commit tax fraud.
Browder remains a wanted man in Russia, and was arrested in Spain at the end of May on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant, but was released shortly afterwards.
The World Cup in Russia runs from June 14 to July 15, and will see 64 games played across 12 stadiums in 11 host cities. Plenty more attempted party-pooping can be expected from Browder and Co. while the rest of the world is enjoying a month-long festival of football.