THEN AND NOW: See how World Cup host Russia looked in Soviet times and how it has changed

July 8, 2018
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In June 1980, Russian tourists admired the view of the Lenin Stadium that was about to host the Olympics. Now called the Luzhniki, the stadium will host the World Cup final on Sunday. (AP Photo).

They are images from what now seems like a different world, black and white glimpses into what was then the USSR.

In 1980, the Cold War was in full flow. The Soviet Union and NATO-allied countries led by the United States had vast nuclear arsenals, enough to destroy the world several times over, targeting each other.  

In Moscow, photographers for The Associated Press fanned out in July 1980 to record a milestone in sporting history: The hosting of the Olympic Games, hit by the biggest boycott in Olympic history. Some 60 nations, including the United States, stayed away to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The Russian capital didn’t have the gleaming skyscrapers, fast-food restaurants and glitzy wealth of today.

But some things haven’t changed.

Had anyone back then, in the height of East-West tensions, said that future generations would party together on Red Square, that Russians and fans from around the world would celebrate a shared passion for soccer, they probably would have been thought of as crazy.

Yet, 38 years later, here we are ...

Whether, and by how much, the World Cup has helped change perceptions of Russia remains a subject of debate. Fans discovered welcoming Russians. But the football hasn’t made tensions disappear between the Kremlin and western governments.

Still, seeing Moscow’s transformation over 38 years, change of one sort or another seems inevitable in the future, too.