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Crimea clubs to join Russia system

MOSCOW -- Football clubs from the Crimea region annexed by Russia will play in the Russian leagues this season.

Three clubs will play in the second division south, a third-tier Russian league, the Russian Football Union said in a statement. The move could bring Russia into conflict with UEFA and FIFA.

The three clubs were SKChF Sevastopol, Zhemchuzhina Yalta, and Tavria Simferopol, the last of whom share their name with a former Ukrainian champion club, but is a new entity.

The former Tavria club was renowned as a hotbed of pro-Ukraine sentiment in Crimea, especially among their hardcore supporters.

SKChF, whose name stands for Sports Club of the (Russian) Black Sea Fleet, will use a stadium occupied by now-defunct Ukrainian Premier League team FC Sevastopol last season, and Tavria are expected to do likewise.

Since Russia annexed the peninsula in February, it has registered a total of five new clubs there.

Ukrainian Football Federation spokesman Pavel Ternovoi told The Associated Press on Friday that Russia had no right to administer football on what Ukraine considers its territory, and called on FIFA and UEFA to respond.

"We can't do the work of FIFA and UEFA. We hope that in the near future these structures take the corresponding decisions," he said.

The Ukrainian federation "doesn't want the destruction of Russian football," Ternovoi added, when asked about possible disciplinary sanctions against the Russian Football Union.

"The federation wants justice and the absence of politics in football, both in Russia and in Crimea."

Sergei Stepashin, a former Russian prime minister who sits on the RFU executive committee, told local media that "sanctions are possible" if Russia incorporates the Crimean clubs, but that the organization had "no doubts" it was the right thing to do.

The RFU wants Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a FIFA executive committee member, to lobby FIFA president Sepp Blatter on the issue, Stepashin added.

Russian organizers of the 2018 World Cup have previously said Crimea could host teams' training bases during the tournament. In March, Blatter dismissed suggestions that aggressive actions by Russia toward Ukraine in Crimea could affect the tournament.

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