Feb 23, 2021 - Sports

Russian politics hit the NHL

Artemi Panarin

Photo: David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is stepping away from the team after his former KHL (Russia) coach, Andrei Nazarov, told a Russian tabloid that he beat up an 18-year-old girl in Latvia in 2011.

Why it matters: Nazarov is a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Panarin has shown support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was recently sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

Details: Nazarov alleges that Panarin, who is Russian, was detained by police and that he paid 40,000 euros to have the charges dropped. Panarin denies the allegations, but his decision to take a leave of absence speaks to the seriousness of the situation.

What they're saying: "This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events. Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team," the Rangers said in a statement.

Alexei Navalny with family
A photo of Navalny and his family on Panarin's Instagram. Source: @artemiypanarin

The backdrop: High-profile Russian athletes rarely speak out against Putin, but Panarin hasn't been shy. In addition to supporting Navalny, he's also expressed frustration with the country's economic development.

  • "I think that the people who hush up the problems are more like foreign agents than those who talk about them," he said in a 2019 Russian-language interview.
  • "If I think about problems, I am coming from a positive place, I want to change something, to have people live better. I don't want to see retirees begging."
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