European football’s governing body, UEFA, might discipline Lokomotiv Moscow soccer star Dmitri Tarasov after he wore a t-shirt featuring a picture of the Russian leader and the words “most polite president” on the field following the team’s 2-0 loss to Turkey’s Fenerbahce on Tuesday.
The phrase alludes to the unmarked troops who invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and were referred to as “polite people” and “little green men” by Russian state-sponsored media. Only after Russia annexed Crimea did President Vladimir Putin admit that they were Russian soldiers.
The dust-up over the t-shirt comes at a time of great tension between Russia and Turkey. The relationship soured after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane that it violated its airspace near Syria in November. A Russian pilot and a rescuer died as a result of the downing.
Russia responded by slapping Turkey with economic sanctions and even a ban on Russian sports teams signing Turkish athletes. Complicating matters more, the countries find themselves on opposite sides of the complex war in Syria. Moscow backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, while Ankara supports rebel forces fighting them.
UEFA, which does not allow political statements at its competitions, opened a disciplinary case against Tarasov on Wednesday, according to Russian news channel TV Rain.
UEFA will consider the case of the Russian midfielder on March 17, according to a R-Sportreport. The Russian sports site said he faces a minimum 10-match suspension.
Istanbul police reportedly detained fans of the Turkish football team Fenerbahce who tried to attack a bus carrying Lokomotiv Moscow fans after the match on Tuesday.