Artemi Panarin made waves earlier this off-season when he inked an eye-popping seven-year, $81.5-million contract with the New York Rangers, but the newest Blueshirt is making headlines for another reason altogether this summer: he’s speaking out against Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In an hour-long interview posted to the Vsemu Golovin YouTube channel and translated into English by Slava Malamud, Panarin, who said he used to support Putin, explained that he did so in the past because he used to have no interest in politics or the news, instead focusing solely on his on-ice career. He said it wasn’t until two years ago that he began to feel a change in his opinion, adding that Russia needs a change in leadership.
“I think he no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong,” Panarin said. “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.”
Asked what change he wants to see, Panarin said that Russia needs a general improvement in quality of life – "I don’t want to see retirees begging. I saw a normal-looking grandma in the metro yesterday, singing for money…" – affordable healthcare and living conditions for those in “regular jobs,” and growth in the country outside of major hubs such as Saint Petersburg and Moscow. The “most painful topic” for Panarin, though, is what he called the lawlessness in Russia.
“We have no laws, we have no agencies that would regulate big companies,” he said. “Everything is bought. I don’t like it. Regular people suffer from this…I would still have a tougher time living in America, since I am Russian and I am used to this country…but, again, lawlessness is very painful for me. No freedom of speech, you can’t point out any negatives.”
This isn’t the first time Panarin has voiced his opinion on Russian politics, however. As noted during the interview, Panarin took to social media earlier this year in response to a law that forbids criticism of the government. According to Malamud, Panarin wrote, “How can they be this afraid of their own citizens? What do you think? Where are we headed?” In the interview released Thursday, he added that freedom of speech needs to exist in order to show (the government) “the other side.”
“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,” Panarin later added. “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.”
And though that didn’t stop Panarin from expressing his opinion about Putin and the Russian government, he said that he does fear the potential consequences. “If a person just has a different opinion…I mean, where the hell is this question even coming from: will I get in trouble for it or not?” Panarin said. “This shouldn’t even [arise]. No trouble should come for this.”
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