Newly inked New York Ranger Artemi Panarin was highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a candid interview posted Thursday.
The interview, filmed at Panarin's home in Saint Petersburg, touched on a host of topics from Russian politics, economics, freedom of speech and the United States. Panarin's comments about Putin captured critique that is uncommon to hear from a high-profile Russian athlete.
"I think he no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong," Panarin said, as translated by Slava Malamud. "Psychologically, it’s not easy for him to judge the situation soberly. He has a lot of people who influence his decisions. But if everyone is walking around you for 20 years telling you what a great guy you are and how great a job you are doing, you will never see your mistakes."
Panarin admitted that he was not as politically inclined when he was younger and instead focused exclusively on hockey. However, after spending time in the U.S., he started to see his home country's failings.
"I was never really interested in politics. Never read the news. I was thoroughly focused on hockey and my progress," Panarin said. "Besides, it’s not like I crossed the [American] border and got enlightened right away. It took me something like two years before I thought, 'Something is wrong [in Russia].' I began feeling, with time, that at the end of summer I started to want to get back [to America].
The 27-year-old winger spoke out earlier this year against a law that gave the Russian government more control over the Internet. In the interview, he touched on his decision to speak out and explained why most people in Russia feel as though they cannot disagree with those in power openly.
"There is still this belief in our society that you can’t say bad things about the government or you will be killed or poisoned," he said. "This should not be happening. [In America] a star or an athlete can directly badmouth the president, and nothing will happen. They can refuse to go to the White House. But here, it’s impossible."
He continued: "I am more of a patriot than those people who hush up the problems. They are playing with people’s emotions by saying that you have to love your country no matter what and hate others. I think it’s wrong. If I see issues and don’t talk about them, I think it’s a greater treason than when I talk about them."
Panarin's comments stand in stark contrast to other Russian athletes like Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who went so far as to create a re-election campaign on social media for Putin in 2017.
The Rangers signed Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with an average annual value os $11.6 million earlier this month. Panarin, who started his career with the Blackhawks but spent the last two seasons with the Blue Jackets, scored 28 goals and had 87 points in 79 regular-season games this season, adding five goals and six assists in the playoffs. In his four-year career, he has 116 goals and 204 assists for 320 regular-season points, averaging 80 points a season.