Photo credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Seeking to explain why Alex Ovechkin started the PutinTeam “social movement” earlier in the fall, a trio of Washington Post reporters went long on the Ovechkin-Putin bromance, and the genesis of Ovechkin’s PutinTeam launch. It’s a sprawling piece of work that explores both the origins and the effects of Ovechkin’s advocacy, including what effect it has, if any, on locker room dynamics, and how it syncs with Ovechkin’s self-stated general lack of interest in politics. You should read it!

American anti-Russia paranoia being what it is, the piece can’t possible delve into this topic without making some attempt to suss out whether PutinTeam is, in fact, the work of shadowy Kremlin forces. Is Ovechkin just a big galoot with a crush on his country’s President? Is he a pawn of a dastardly Russian propaganda machine? Or is he, in fact, a Russian spy?

Ovechkin says the PutinTeam movement was his idea, though there are signs that a Kremlin-backed public-relations firm might have played a role.

[...]

The domain was created Sept. 6, but it was not immediately clear who funded and created the site or who was running its associated pages on Facebook, Instagram and other social networks. The official line from the Kremlin is that Putin did not know in advance about Ovechkin’s plans, though the Russian president certainly welcomed the gesture.

[...]

People within the Capitals’ organization, however, are under the impression that Ovechkin was asked to create PutinTeam, and Russian media have begun connecting dots back to the Russian government. The financial newspaper Vedomosti, citing Kremlin sources, reported that the project was developed by a Moscow consulting agency called IMA-Consulting, which holds a reported $600,000 contract to promote the country’s presidential election in March.

That’s it. He’s a spy. Or maybe I just like spy dramas. No. He’s a spy.

Ovechkin is famously demonstrative and outspoken about his general patriotism, and the piece points out a number of reasons why Ovechkin might not be susceptible to pressures and influences that might overwhelm other athletes. Ovechkin appears to have no future political ambitions, and, frankly, he’s just too damn rich and famous for all that:

Kremlin observers explain that many Russian celebrities can face pressures both overt and indirect to take part in a Russian political campaign. For many, an endorsement might protect their families or help secure government funding for their projects. But most agree that Ovechkin probably is above such pressures — too rich, too high profile.

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The conclusion, here, seems to be that Ovechkin is genuinely just a big goober who loves his dang country, the kind of guy who would be smitten with anyone doing Putin’s job, and his fondness for Vladimir Putin exists simply because Putin is the guy doing it. Putin, for his part, has invested a lot of energy and attention in the relationship, although here, too, the Post report says he might, himself, be too damn popular to need any endorsement from Ovechkin:

While Putin hasn’t formally announced his intentions, he is expected to seek a new six-year term. He enjoys such a high favorability rating that a celebrity endorsement won’t win or lose the race, but Kremlin observers say it could help foster support among young voters.

As is generally the case when discussing foreign leaders and their constituents, the specific feelings of Russians about Vladimir Putin are vastly more varied and informed and nuanced than those of Americans. Ovechkin happens to be part of the large group of Russians who like the guy. I am forced to concede this probably does not mean that he is a spy. Probably.