Alex Ovechkin launches social-media movement to promote Vladimir Putin

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      If Wayne Gretzky could endorse Stephen Harper and if Phil Esposito could prefer Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, then it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that a great Russian NHL star is backing his country's authoritarian leader.

      The Washington Post has reported that Capitals' captain Alex Ovechkin has launched a "social movement" to generate support for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

      Ovechkin has spoken positively about Putin before.

      But he's ratcheting this up a notch in an Instagram post, in which he says he's "ready to be a member of Putin's team".

      "Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of Putin Team," Ovechkin says, according to a Washington Post translation. "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.”

      View this post on Instagram

      Личные награды и призы – все это здорово, но в хоккее, как и в любом деле, для победы важнее команда. Только команда способна переломить ход игры, сделать невозможное. В последнее время в западной прессе я встречаю сочетание Putin’s team, то есть команда Путина. И знаете, мне очень понравилось это определение. Лично я готов быть частью такой команды. Я никогда не скрывал своего отношения к нашему Президенту, всегда открыто его поддерживая. Я уверен, что нас, поддерживающих Владимира Путина, много! Так давайте объединимся и покажем всем сильную и сплоченную Россию! Сегодня я хочу объявить о том, что создаю общественное движение под названием Putin Team. Быть частью такой команды – для меня гордость, это похоже на ощущение, когда ты надеваешь майку сборной России, зная, что за тебя болеет вся страна. #putinteam

      A post shared by Alexander Ovechkin (@aleksandrovechkinofficial) on

      The first round of the next Russian presidential election will be held on March 18, 2018. Putin is expected to run as an independent.

      One declared candidate, Progress Party chairman Aleksei Navalny, was jailed in March for organizing antigovernment protests.

      Navalny is a lawyer and financial activist who has often claimed that Putin's regime is corrupt.

      On Putin's birthday on October 7, thousands demonstrated in the streets, demanding that he release Navalny from prison.

      According to Amnesty International, "scores of peaceful protesters" were detained. At the time, the human-rights group called for an investigation into allegations of police brutality in Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg and in Yakutsk.

      Amnesty International has also accused the Russian Federation of prosecuting and fining human-rights defenders, and charging them with "extremism".

      Meanwhile, farmers from southern Russia were prosecuted for an "unauthorized motorcade" when they travelled in tractors and private cars to Moscow to protest land seizures.

      recent Amnesty International report on Russia includes other, more serious allegations.

      "There were reports of torture and other ill-treatment in penitentiary institutions, and prisoners’ lives were at risk because of inadequate medical care in prisons," the group stated. "Serious human rights violations continued to be reported in the context of security operations in the North Caucasus.

      "People criticizing the authorities in Chechnya faced physical attacks by non-state actors and prosecution, and human rights defenders reporting from the region faced harassment from non-state actors," Amnesty International continued. "Russia faced international criticism in relation to allegations of war crimes by its forces in Syria." 

      But to Ovie, support for Putin should not be interpreted as a political action.

      “I just support my country, you know?” Ovechkin told the Washington Post this week. “That’s where I’m from, my parents live there, all my friends. Like every human from different countries, they support their president.”