Campaign diary

Navalny amused by US ice hockey players for Putin

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Ilya Kovalchuk (right) bought a flat in Miami for $4.6 million

by Sarah Hurst

Today Alexei Navalny published a video about the luxurious US properties owned by NHL star Alexander Ovechkin and colleagues who have formed a “Putin Team” in advance of the election on March 18. Apparently living in the United States and becoming rich thanks to sports fans there poses no contradiction for Russian players who support the ice hockey-mad Russian president.

“Yes, I’m an opposing candidate, but I really, really like the Putin Team movement because thanks to their example it’s even easier for me to explain who Putin is, and who his elite and support group are,” Navalny said on the video. Ovechkin has been a fan of the president for a long time, wearing Putin T-shirts and making a video wishing him a happy birthday, Navalny noted.

Ovechkin has lived in the United States for 12 years and bought a house for $1.6 million and another one for $4.2 million in the suburbs of Washington, Navalny said. “Relatively recently he also reinforced his love for Putin and Russia by purchasing a 200 sq. m. flat for $2 million in Miami,” Navalny added.

Flats in Miami and a penthouse in Trump International

Ilya Kovalchuk, who has also joined the “Putin Team”, called on Russians to vote for Putin in 2012 from his house in Atlanta, or perhaps from his flat in Miami, registered in his wife’s name, Navalny said. A month before that election Kovalchuk also purchased a 350 sq. m. flat on Miami’s Fisher Island for $4.6 million, Navalny said. He appeared on Russia’s Channel One wearing a jumper with a picture of Putin winking on it.

Retired ice hockey player Pavel Bure, who is also on the “Putin Team”, also has a property on Fisher Island, which he bought for $3.6 million in 2007, Navalny said. Bure returned to live in Russia and ostensibly gave up his US citizenship, but his brother is a US citizen and lives in California, making wine in the Napa Valley, and Bure’s father also lives in the United States and is a Canadian citizen, Navalny said.

Vyacheslav Fetisov, who helped coach the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup victory and is now a Russian senator, is also on the “Putin Team”. In 2009 Fetisov’s wife purchased a penthouse in Trump International New York for $6.5 million, Navalny said. Rather than declaring ownership of the penthouse for tax purposes, Fetisov re-registered it in the name of his daughter Anastasia, according to Navalny, who showed a document proving his assertion.

Usmanov fortune could help Putin

Another key member of the “Putin Team” is Irina Viner, a Russian rhythmic gymnastics coach who is married to oligarch Alisher Usmanov. Usmanov has sued Navalny for claiming that he gave property to Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and featured in the Paradise Papers for owning a stake in two rival UK Premier League football clubs, Arsenal and Everton. He owns the world’s largest yacht. Navalny suggested that the “Putin Team” headquarters should be based in the stately home in Surrey that the Usmanov family owns.

This weekend Navalny plans to hold rallies in Volgograd, Izhevsk and Smolensk. Today a block of flats collapsed in Izhevsk, probably due to a household gas explosion, and at least four people were killed. Navalny had said that a group of residents in Izhevsk voted to host his rally at their building. The disaster in Izhevsk was almost certainly due to poor infrastructure rather than some kind of subversive action by the authorities there, but it illustrates why people all over Russia have been so keen to hear what Navalny offers as an alternative to Putin.

Meanwhile Putin visited a factory in Chelyabinsk and said that attempts to ban Russian participants from the Winter Olympics in February due to doping were connected with discrediting him ahead of the election. He clearly has nothing truthful to offer and will depend on his stories of foreign conspiracies to carry him through to next spring’s showdown. Plus, of course, many more arrests.


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