A Russian government official has condemned Pavel Pogrebnyak over comments he made in a newspaper interview claiming that it is "laughable" for a black footballer to represent Russia.
Vladimir Putin’s human rights advisor, Mikhail Fedotov, said Pogrebnyak’s comments "smelt of racism" after the Ural Yekaterinburg forward spoke out against the number of naturalised Russians representing the national team.
The 35-year-old, who played for both Fulham and Reading during a three-year stay in England, represented Russia 33 times, and played at the European Championship in 2012.
He made the controversial remarks in an interview with a local tabloid in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, saying: "I don't see the point of this. I do not understand at all why Ari (Brazilian-born Ariclenes da Silva Ferreira) received a Russian passport.
"It is laughable when a black player represents the Russian national side. Mario Fernandes is a top player. But we also have Igor Smolnikov in his position. We could make do without foreigners as well."
Responding to Pogrebnyak’s claims, head of Russia’s presidential Human Rights Council, Fedotov told TV channel Moscow 360: "I believe that any football player who plays well and has Russian citizenship has a right to represent the Russian national side.
"The colour of their skin, eyes, hair and everything else has no significance. This should be obvious to anyone."
Both Ari and Mario Fernandes have represented Russia in the last 12 months after receiving passports, with Fernandes scoring the last-minute goal against Croatia in the World Cup quarter-final that sent the match to penalties.
The Russian Football Union had said it intends to investigate Pogrebnyak’s remarks before deciding whether to take action against the former international.
The striker could face a fine or a ban from playing if found guilty of having committed an infringement.
Russia has been dogged by controversy surrounding the treatment of black footballers playing in the country’s domestic league.
In 2011, fans of Russian Premier League side Lokomotiv Moscow displayed a banner in reference to Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie featuring a banana saying 'Thank you, West Brom' after the player left to join West Bromwich Albion.
More recently, the RFU was fined £22,000 by FIFA in May 2018 after fans made monkey noises at France players during a friendly in Moscow in the build-up to the World Cup.