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Russian PM Putin to snub vote

Russia's hopes of winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup finals have been hit by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision not to travel for the vote because he does not want to be involved in "unfair competition".

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Speculation early on Monday suggested Putin had pulled out of the final stages of lobbying in Zurich, where he was expected to attend as a figurehead of the government and play a crucial part in the bid's campaign. Russia are sending First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in his place.

Putin was missing from the official list of speakers before he confirmed to ministers in Russia that he will remain at home as the clock ticks down to the decision, which is due to be announced at around 1500 GMT on Thursday.

The Russian premier has blamed a smear campaign for his refusal to travel, which has been interpreted as a criticism of the BBC's Panorama programme which accused three FIFA executive committee members of taking bribes.

"I view that as unfair competition," Putin said. "Such methods we consider to be absolutely inadmissible. Recently we have unfortunately seen a clear campaign against members of the FIFA executive committee."

The Russians have been long-term favourites to come out on top, just ahead of England and Spain/Portugal. Netherlands/Belgium is considered to be a long outside bet to host in 2018. Putin will be the only head of government from the 2018 bidding nations not to be present.

"I would love to represent our entry in person," he told ministers in Moscow. "However, under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the FIFA executive committee, so that they can make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure."

Putin went on to urge FIFA to bring the World Cup to Russia for the first time.

"The world football championship has never been held either in Russia, or anywhere else in eastern Europe," he said. "Russia has both the will and the capabilities, including financial, to organise this major sport event. And if we are granted this honour, rest assured we will deliver a championship at the highest possible level."

Putin said he would "definitely meet" Blatter and the FIFA executive committee if Russia was chosen.


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