A painting of a cat at the State Hermitage Museum (photo by Flickr user RachelH_)

Earlier this week, a deaf feline resident of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, was declared the official animal oracle of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scheduled to take place in Russia this summer. Achilles the cat will attempt to predict the outcome of individual matches by choosing between two bowls of food, each designated with a flag of the competing nation. Achilles was apparently chosen for the task due to the accuracy of his previous predictions of winners in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, according to artnet’s Caroline Goldstein.

Hundreds of cats have roamed the galleries of the Hermitage Museum since the 18th century, when the first group was brought in as a form of natural, fluffy pest control. Today, the Hermitage cats even have their own press secretary; other Russian museums have also started keeping cats in their employ. As for World Cup animal prognosticators, the most famous was probably Germany’s Paul the Octopus, who, strangely enough, correctly pointed out the winners of 12 out of 14 games by the end of the 2010 World Cup.

But international relations may be this cat’s Achilles’ heel, so to speak. With tensions mounting between Russia and Britain, a shadow could be cast over Achilles’ new job. British Members of Parliament are discussing whether they should encourage the England national football team to boycott the World Cup, or even push FIFA to move or postpone the whole tournament, after a Russian former spy was poisoned in Salisbury, England. Although the UK’s Labour party is still split on the issue, one Labour MP told Express, “I am very concerned that Putin will use the World Cup in the same way that Hitler used the 1936 Munich Olympics, as a public relations exercise for a brutal dictatorship.”

Elena Goukassian is an arts writer based in Brooklyn. Originally from Bulgaria, she grew up in Washington state and lived in Washington, DC before moving to New York in 2017. Her writing has also appeared...