WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin says he isn't trying to make a political statement by voicing his support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the Russian presidential election.
Ovechkin posted a message in Russian on his Instagram account Thursday saying that he's starting "a social movement called Putin Team. Ovechkin added that he has never hidden his feelings about Putin and has "always supported him openly."
On Thursday night, Ovechkin painted it as a show of support for Russia.
"I just support my country, you know?" Ovechkin said after the Capitals' game against the New York Islanders. "That's where I'm from, my parents live there, all my friends. Like every human from different countries, they support their president."
Asked if it meant he supported Putin's political beliefs, Ovechkin said, "It's not about political stuff" and that he doesn't try to be a political person. The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 18.
"It's not about I try to make a statement, like politic stuff," Ovechkin said. "It's just what I think and what I support."
Putin has dominated U.S. political headlines because of government probes into Russia's potential interference in the 2016 presidential election and connections to Donald Trump's campaign.
"It's not about like 100 percent politics or something," he said. "It's just my view. It's just my feelings. I'm from there and nothing like crazy or something that I want to do."
The 32-year-old Ovechkin is from Moscow and has often been photographed with Putin. A photograph of Ovechkin and Putin accompanied the post, in which the longtime NHL star says, "Being part of this team makes me proud and it's similar to the feeling you get when you put on a Russian national team jersey, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you."
"I'm confident that there's a lot of us who support Vladimir Putin," Ovechkin wrote in the post. "So let's come together and show everyone a strong and unified Russia!"
Ovechkin said he has a good relationship with Putin.
"He respect me as an athlete, and he respect all the athletes who represent the country," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter where you play, in Russia or outside Russia. If you represent country in Olympic games, world championship or it doesn't matter which tournament, he always have good relationship with us."
Ovechkin has represented Russia in international play 30 times, winning three world championship gold medals.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.