COLLABORATOR ALEXANDER OVECHKIN By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell

Alexander Ovechkin holds a certficate of recognition given to him by President Vladimir Putin

Russian player takes to social media to support his pal Vladimir Putin

 

The Washington Capitals came to Buffalo last week, and with them was the superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin, arguably one of the most dominant faces of the National Hockey League.

Ovechkin was the only goal scorer that night for the Caps, his 13th of the season, in a game where the Sabres put together their best defensive effort of the season in a 3-1 victory. He was nowhere to be found in the dressing room following the game, choosing not to meet with media members for comments.

AlexanderOvechkin

Maybe it was best that he wasn’t around because the mood of the day from this corner was not so much to ask about his team’s poor showing that evening, but rather about “Putin’s Team”.

Announcing his plans last week via social media platforms, Ovechkin stated that he was creating an online movement called “Putin’s Team”, referring to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, to help support Putin’s re-election and to show solidarity with his friend and mentor.

The Russian people go to the polls on March 18, 2018, to vote in their presidential elections. If no candidate attains an absolute majority of more than 50%, then a runoff contest will take place three weeks later, on April 8.

In his message and accompanied by a photo of himself shaking hands with Putin, Ovechkin stated, “Personal awards and prizes are all great, but in hockey, as in any case, to win it’s important to have a team. Only the team is able to reverse the course of the game, to achieve the impossible. I am certain that there are many of us that support Vladimir Putin. Let’s unite and show a strong and united Russia!”

Anyone not living in a cave these past three years knows exactly what is going on in the state of American and world affairs and the filthy fingerprints of the Putin regime in many of the things that are wrong with this world.

Putin has led massive military incursions into Syria and Ukraine. In order to expand the Russian sphere of influence in the Middle East, Putin has propped up a brutal Syrian government in a multi-pronged civil conflict. The result has been death and destruction of innocents on a massive scale, and a tide of refugees that have overwhelmed the west.

A Ukrainian man stands in protest during Russia’s invasion in 2014

It’s even worse in Ukraine. After a populist uprising overthrew Putin backed Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich in 2014, Putin responded, and just after the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, by sending in suspect armies with no insignias into the Crimean peninsula. These “Little Green Men” quickly took control of harbors, army bases, government office buildings and other strategic centers, and just like that Crimea was declared Russian property and soil. Putin’s adventurism had far more consequential outcomes in east Ukraine, a region called the Donbas, where the Ukrainian and Russian cultures and languages have flourished side by side for decades with very few issues. Russian backed insurgents launched a war against the Ukrainian state and its own citizens living in the region, a war which endures to this day and has already costs the lives of over 10,000 people and has displaced over 1.3-million citizens. Putin has steadfastly denied any involvement in what he refers to as a civil conflict, yet curiously the military hardware has grown increasingly sophisticated, far more than a Russian farmer in Luhansk would keep stored in his barn amidst tractors and other farming implements.

Within four months of the start of this supposed civil skirmish, a Russian grad missile launched from Russian held territory struck a Malaysian Airlines airplane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 on board. Russia, of course, denied any involvement.

Shall we even go further, the insidious campaign of Russian trolls using the internet to commandeer American social media platforms? The disappearance and deaths of journalists who dare have the temerity to criticize the Russian regime? The incremental reduction of civil liberties in Russia that continues to this day? The criminalization of the LGBT community in Russia?

Ovechkin lives in Moscow during the NHL offseason, enjoying the perks and privileges of Russia’s elite society while getting along on his US$10-million salary as the fifth highest paid player in the league. He has been feted and welcomed to the Kremlin on numerous occasions, and in 2014, voiced his full-throated support of the Russian proxy war in eastern Ukraine, even while the gleaming new $2-billion Donetsk International Airport, build with great fanfare for the 2012 Euro soccer championships, lay in ruins. Even while body bags of young Russians killed in the conflict were quietly being transported back across the border under the cover of darkness. For the Ukrainians, who want only to live in peace and away from meddling from their larger and more powerful neighbor, the consequences have been far, far worse.

There has been a subtle rebuke from the league and the team for his political outspokenness, and Ovechkin dialed it back earlier this year, stating to CNN in January, “I have a good relationship with Russians. And Americans. So I’m neutral.”

With the new “Putin Team,” the league and the Capitals have been mostly quiet, stating that players are allowed to express feelings or participation in political activism of their choice, so long as it doesn’t affect the team.

But to what extent should this go? This is not a ubiquitous dropping on one knee during the anthem. This not a fist in the air in memory of fallen contemporaries. It is setting an example to adoring fans that wars of aggression, death, mayhem, destruction, genocide, the usurping of civil rights and dignities, are all acceptable through the lens of national pride. If any other hockey player in the NHL chose to wear an insignia of ISIS or Hamas, or start a social media movement in support of the neo-Nazi advocates such as those who marched through Charlottesville this past summer, you know the league’s retribution and action would be swift and resolute.

“Being a part of such a team is a privilege for me. It’s like feeling when you put on a Russian national team jersey, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you,” says Ovechkin.

Pride and patriotism are a huge part of the game, and no matter what country you come from, anyone can feel that passion and energy during such hockey events as the Winter Olympics or the World Juniors. Even for the Russian team.

Let’s hope Ovechkin’s “Putin’s Team” ends up being a movement of one. No other Russian playing on an NHL team should have to stain himself and his reputation with this type of nonsense. And the ticket-buying fans here in the United States and in Canada deserve better as well.

 

TARO SEZ…

And speaking of ticket buying fans, last Friday’s “Military Appreciation Night” was a very nicely put together and well scripted promotion put together by the Buffalo Sabres, themed nights that should become more frequent and elaborate, especially given that the team is now in a position to have to market more intensely to fill seats in the building.

With one exception.

One of the offers involved a discounted $25 300 level ticket to any fan showing military ID. The savvy purchaser needed only to go instead to secondary tickets resale sites such as Seatgeek or Stubhub, to find plenty of upper decks seats available with prices starting at $13.25

Oops. Perhaps a $10 price point next time.