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Volume 24 No. 218
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Alex Ovechkin's Social Movement Supporting Vladimir Putin Raises Eyebrows For Some

Capitals LW ALEX OVECHKIN, who "may or may not be a witting font of Kremlin propaganda" in DC, this month announced the "creation of a 'civic movement' he has called '#putinteam,' a demonstration of support" for Russia President VLADIMIR PUTIN months before the country's election, according to a front-page piece by Matt Flegenheimer of the N.Y. TIMES. Ovechkin "insists the idea was his, unconnected to the Russian leader or his allies." Ovechkin: "Putin's Team is Putin's Team. It is just for people who support the country, and basically it's a simple thing." But Flegenheimer notes experts in Russian politics, where star athletes are "often deployed for popular cover, are exceedingly skeptical." News reports in Russia have "linked the campaign to a major public relations firm, which is said to have devised 'Putin Team' before securing the blessing of the president's orbit." And while Putin's electoral prospects are "hardly in doubt, the backing of prominent athletes is viewed as helpful in projecting mass popularity at home and abroad." U.S. officials said that they believe Ovechkin is "most likely being used for precisely this sort of hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at garnering good will" for Putin, whether or not Ovechkin is "particularly conscious of this." For U.S. fans, Ovechkin's embrace of Putin has "already proved uncomfortable, forcing some to reconcile their idol's support for a government seen as hostile to national interests" with Ovechkin's image as an "affable regional man-child." Ovechkin also suggested that his contact with Putin should "not be overstated, estimating that they had not spoken since the summer and clarifying that he did not have a cellphone number for the president." Ovechkin: "It would be nice, though" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19).