Putin keeps Chechen leader onside with award of Russia friendly
By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's soccer match against Romania on Tuesday is likely to arouse little interest abroad - though the venue may raise a few eyebrows.
The friendly will be staged in the capital of the Chechen Republic, Grozny, the site of two brutal wars in the 1990s and still considered too much of a security risk to host games in the 2018 World Cup.
That exclusion irked Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a long-time ally of Vladimir Putin, and some see the award of Tuesday's match as a gesture of solidarity that at least in part reflects the febrile political climate in which the Russian president operates.
"Putin has massively backed Chechnya both financially and politically. This is a show of faith towards Kadyrov that a match of this importance is being allowed to take place here," Russian political scientist Mikhail Zakharov told Reuters.
With the threat posed by Islamic insurgents having grown since Moscow became involved in fighting Islamic State in Syria, the fear of a terrorist attack on Russia's southern borders or elsewhere in the country has risen.
"By allowing a match of such importance to take place in Chechnya, Putin is showing that it is safe to hold major events in the south of Russia," Zakharov said.
This will be the first time that Grozny, one of the biggest cities in the North Caucasus, will host a Russian international.
Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya unopposed, is a keen follower of football and the local premier league club Terek Grozny are bankrolled by the government.
"Kadyrov loves to put on shows in order to support the image of unity of Russia and Chechnya and to show his loyalty to Putin," Zakharov added.
"Football in Chechnya is not really sport. It is about a united political idea."
(Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by John Stonestreet)