Alexander Ovechkin finally addressed the crisis in Ukraine, saying some words in a press conference in Philadelphia that sounded nice but were ultimately meaningless.
“It is a hard situation. You know, I have lots of friends in Russia and Ukraine and it is hard to see the war. Like, I hope soon it is going to be over.
“Please, no more war. It doesn’t matter who is in the war — Russia, Ukraine, different countries, I think we live in a world, like, we have to live in peace and a great world.”
He brushed off direct questions about whether or not he supports the invasion of Ukraine, saying, “It’s not in my hands.” On Vladimir Putin, saying, “He’s my president, but how I said, I’m not in politics, I’m an athlete.”
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It was fair to ask the Washington Capitals star about Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He is, after all, probably the most famous athlete to publicly support the autocrat, even starting a social media movement in 2017 called PutinTeam, as described in a 2017 Washington Post story:
“Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of PutinTeam,” Ovechkin wrote in the post, accompanied by a photo of Ovechkin being embraced by the Russian leader. “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.”
It was fair to ask Ovechkin these questions, but no one should have expected anything more than a perfunctory, PR-team prepped response. Ovechkin is the greatest goal scoring talent in hockey history, and it was hilarious to see him party with the Cup, but no one ever accused him of being politically sophisticated.
The Moscow-born superstar also mentioned that he has friends and family in Russia, people who could be used as leverage if he ever decided to betray the master of the Kremlin.
To be fair, nothing about Russian politics, especially in relation to U.S. interests, is simple and cut and dried. Oh sure, Putin is sufficiently villainous, but there’s no good guy in this U.S.-Russia proxy war, just the oligarchs, imperialists and the poor innocent people of Ukraine and Russia caught in the middle. Nothing can justify Putin’s naked aggression against a sovereign state, but this moment has been building ever since the 2014 overthrow of a Moscow-leaning government and increasing American influence in the region. For example, the 36-year-old Ovi was wise to not bring up the fact that many Russians blame the United States for fomenting war in the region, to the potential benefit of U.S. oil companies and military contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
No nothing about this is as simple as cable news and a few retweets would make it seem.
Artemi Panarin, star Russian winger for the New York Rangers, has been vocal in his criticism of Putin, particularly for imprisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny. President Joe Biden warned Putin of serious consequences if Navalny died in prison. But Navalny, it turns out, isn’t a good guy either, as Amnesty International removed his “prisoner of conscience” label for his xenophobia and advocacy of violence, although it quickly reversed that decision.
Ultimately, Ovechkin expressed what everyone hopes: That the crisis will be over and there will be peace.
Yet historically it’s always been easier to say you’re anti-war than to actually denounce your own government in times of war. That will be something to remember in the coming days if this vestige of the Cold War gets any hotter.