Saint Petersbug: Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced visa-free travel for fans at the 2018 World Cup as he hosted two of world football's most powerful figures ahead of a key election.
Putin received FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini in his native city of Saint Petersburg for celebrations of the centenary of the Russian Football Union (RFU).
Russia's sports-mad premier had scored points with domestic football fans by snatching the right to host the 2018 event from England in a bitter race last year -- a victory that helped boost his image of a can-do leader.
Putin will seek to win a third term as president in March elections after spending the past four years as prime minister and has spent recent weeks trying to attract the support of blue-collar workers at various meetings.
"Russia has decided to let in all the fans for the 2018 World Cup if they have tickets," Putin said during a meeting that was dominated by discussions of the World Cup's first-ever appearance in Russia.
"What's more, we are even considering the option of letting fans use their tickets to travel between host cities for free," he said.
Blatter called the idea of fans being spared the complicated and expensive visa procedure "tremendous."
"I am sure that this is the way it will really work," he said.
Platini for his part said he was currently also discussing visa-free travel with Poland and Ukraine -- the twin hosts of this year's Euro championship.
"The problem with entry visas is a political problem," said Platini.
"We need an agreement between Ukraine and Poland so that there are no difficulties for the fans.
Soon after Russia won the right to host the Word Cup it saw a series of race riots between nationalist fans of a Moscow club and natives of the mostly Muslim Caucasus region.
The street violence was followed by several racist incidents at matches that once again highlighted the security and cultural problems plaguing Russia as it prepares to host the world's most watched event.
Putin urged fans to be on their best behaviour once guests start arriving from around the world.
"I hope that despite all the well-known and natural animosities that go with the competition, you will be able to keep the situation civilised," Putin said during a meeting with fan groups.