Ovechkin continued: “I’m certain that there are many of us that support Vladimir Putin. Let’s unite and show everyone a strong and united Russia. Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of Putin Team. Be a part of this team – to me it’s a privilege, it’s like the feeling of when you put on the jersey of the Russian team, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you.”
After the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, Ovechkin explained why he decided on this public show of support for Putin.
“I just support my country, you know?” Ovechkin said. “That’s where I’m from, my parents live there, all my friends. Like every human from different countries, they support their president.”
Asked if his support of Putin means translates into a support of Putin’s political ideals, Ovechkin said, “It’s not about political stuff.”
“I don’t try to be politics man or someone like that,” Ovechkin said. “I just support my president and just support my country because I’m from there, and you know, if people from U.S. came to Russia, they care about what happening in U.S. So, I care about what happening in Russia because that’s my home and that’s where I’m from.”
Russia will hold a presidential election in March, and though Putin hasn’t formally announced he will seek re-election, he’s expected to seek a new six-year term. Putin enjoys an 80 percent approval rating, according to Russian surveys, and has run Russia for longer than anyone since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Under his rule, Moscow has been slapped with sanctions from the United States over its annexation of Crimea and tensions between the two countries are especially high over U.S. investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Obviously I support what I see, and it’s not about I try to make a statement, like politic stuff,” Ovechkin said. “It’s just what I think and what I support.”
Ovechkin is a Russian citizen, and Moscow is his home with several family members residing there. He’s represented Russia in international hockey competitions throughout his career. When the NHL announced that its players wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics, Ovechkin was the most defiant of NHL players, vowing to play for Team Russia anyway. It wasn’t until the day before the Capitals’ training camp opened that Ovechkin relented and admitted his 2018 Olympic dream was dead.
In a 2011 interview, Ovechkin admitted to being so close to Putin that he had a “home number” for the president, and the two were often seen together this summer. Putin gave Ovechkin and his wife a wedding present and also called the couple personally to congratulate them when they were married in July. In June, Ovechkin attended a four-hour question-and-answer session of Putin’s that was broadcast on Russian state TV. In August, the two were seen hugging at a martial arts event in Sochi.
“It’s a good relationship,” Ovechkin said on Thursday night. “He respects me as an athlete, and he respects all of the athletes who represent the country. It doesn’t matter where you play, in Russia or outside Russia. If you represent country in Olympic games, World Championships or doesn’t matter which tournament, he always have good relationship with us.”
As for what Ovechkin would say to Capitals fans and others who believe endorsing Putin is wrong, especially considering the current political climate between the two nations, Ovechkin replied, “It’s not about 100 percent politics or something. It’s just my view, it’s just my feelings. I’m from there and nothing like crazy or something I want to do.”