‘Welcome to Russia,’ Putin tells WCup fans, teams

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the 2018 soccer World Cup draw in the Kremlin in Moscow. Vladimir Putins Russia was always going to be a controversial host, but few could have imagined the situation that greets the 2018 World Cup. The annexation of Crimea, alleged U.S. election interference, the war in Syria and a poisoned spy in Britain are just a few of the storms surrounding the Kremlin before Putin officially declares the tournament open June 14. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

MOSCOW (AP) President Vladimir Putin is welcoming soccer teams and fans to Russia for the World Cup, saying the tournament will be thrilling and memorable.

”For our country, it’s a great joy and honor to receive representatives from the massive footballing family,” Putin said in a video statement released Saturday. He promised ”a real celebration – filled with sporting passion and strong emotions.”

Putin added ”I hope that you will have lasting memories, not only of the matches of the best teams and the skills of the players, but also of your acquaintance with Russia – its distinctive culture, unique history and rich character and her hospitable, sincere and friendly people.”

He concluded in English, saying ”Welcome to Russia.”