Moscow — Just three months ago Vladimir Putin was being treated as an international pariah after the UK and its allies blamed Moscow for poisoning the former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury. This time in July, billions of people could watch the Russian president present the coveted World Cup trophy to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or another of football’s biggest superstars. As host of the quadrennial tournament, which kicked off at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday, Russia and its president have been handed a month-long opportunity to show that western attempts to isolate their country have failed and that it can defy economic sanctions. Even the opening game between the hosts and Saudi Arabia presents an opportunity for international networking. Putin will attend the game with Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful Saudi crown prince with whom he forged a pact that has boosted oil prices. Rising crude prices were crucial to Ru...

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