Astroturf on Ice

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Washington Capitals star player Alexei Ovechkin. Photo courtesy of A. Gordeyev/Vedomosti

Alexander Ovechkin’s Movement Could Be Part of Putin’s Election Campaign 
Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
November 9, 2017

Putin Team, a movement launched last week by Washington Capitals hockey star Alexander Ovechkin, is meant to unite celebrities and could be part of the campaign of Vladimir Putin, who is expected to announce he will run for re-election in 2018. Vedomosti was given this information by a source close to the Kremlin, and it was corroborated by another source. The idea for the movement was not generated by the Kremlin, but nor did Ovechkin come up with the idea himself, our two sources claimed. According to them, the idea was conceived by IMA Consulting (a subsidiary of IMA Group). The Kremlin signed off on the idea after it was launched, one of our sources added.

Ovechkin announced he was establishing Putin Team on November 2.

“I am sure there are many of us who support Vladimir Putin. So let’s unite and show everyone a strong and united Russia!” Ovechkin wrote on Instagram, adding he had never hidden his attitude to the president and had always openly supported him.

Ovechkin’s appeal was supported by NHL Hall of Fame inductee Pavel Bure, Ilya Kovalchuk, a player with the Petersburg side SKA, and the governors of Tula and Moscow regions, Alexei Dyumin (Putin’s ex-aide and a Night Hockey League player) and Andrei Vorobyov. Ovechkin’s announcement has not been followed by any formal actions or explanations. Ovechkin’s agent Gleb Chistyakov told Vedomosti he had nothing to say about the movement for the time being, and he also refused to comment on who had come up with the idea.

When asked by Vedomosti whether it was IMA who had come up with the idea for Putin Team, Vartan Sarkisov, general director of IMA Consulting, said, “It’s not true.”

In August, IMA Consulting won a tender from the Central Election Commission to develop the concept for a campaign raising awareness of the presidential election. IMA will be one of the key players in everything the Kremlin has planned for the election, we were told by our source close to the presidential administration, and Ovechkin’s movement could become part of Putin’s campaign. The idea behind the undertaking is that “celebrities support Putin,” our other source close to the Kremlin told us.

Russian has been no stranger to such organizations. Thus, in December 2007, as Putin’s second term as president came to a close, the Movement for Putin emerged, advocating Putin retain power as the “national leader.” In 2009, a co-leader of For Putin, Pavel Astakhov, was named the national children’s rights ombudsman.

Ovechkin’s movement would mainly be useful to Kremlin as a means of shaking the western stereotype that Russia’s finest people [sic] do not support Putin, but back the opposition, political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko said. According to Minchenko, the emergence in Putin’s camp of a figure popular in the west, such as Ovechkin [sic], would increase the president’s legitimacy in the eyes of the west [sic]. Minchenko has seen with his own eyes how Ovechkin is regarded in Washington, DC, where he has a “quite large fan club.” In Russia, however, the movement will be considerably less effective and will not significantly increase the number of votes Putin wins in the election, argues Minchenko.

Such movements are always needed on the international stage, and not just in the run-up to elections, argues pro-Kremlin political scientist Andrei Kolyadin.

“A person who has found the courage to speak up for a national leader whom some American politicians regard as an incarnation of pure evil, and defend the interests of a country not liked in the US, can cause a wave of similar actions by people forced to hide their respect for Russia.”

The movement is also capable of producing extra votes for Putin in Russia, argues Kolyadin. Very many people regard Ovechkin as an opinion leader [sic], and finding opinion leaders who sincerely support you requires great talent on the part of spin doctors running any politician’s election campaign.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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