Kremlin welcomes ice hockey star Ovechkin’s ‘Putin Team’ initiative

FILE PHOTO: NHL - New York Islanders at Washington Capitals
FILE PHOTO: Nov 2, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) shoots the puck as New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) defends in the second period at Capital One Arena. The Capitals won 4-3. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

November 3, 2017

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it welcomed an initiative by Alex Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals ice hockey team, to create a public movement in support of President Vladimir Putin.

The 32-year-old National Hockey League (NHL) star wrote on Instagram on Thursday he was launching a movement called “Putin Team” meant to unite supporters of the Kremlin strongman.

“We, of course, overall welcome Sasha’s (Ovechkin’s) desire to express support for our president, especially abroad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“We for now cannot say how this initiative will be organized. We just don’t know. … But we know that he highly appreciates our president.”

In his post, Ovechkin made no mention of Russia’s next presidential election in March, in which Putin, with public approval ratings hovering above 80 percent, is widely expected to run for a fourth term.

“I have never hidden my attitude toward our president, always openly supporting him,” Ovechkin wrote. “I am confident that there are many of us supporting Vladimir Putin. So let’s unite and show everyone a united and strong Russia!”

Ovechkin congratulated the Russian leader on his 65th birthday in an Instagram video last month.

Putin, a black belt in judo, occasionally plays ice hockey with former Soviet and Russian players, as well as government officials.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Ralph Boulton)