Russian chess star Karjakin says he is on ‘team Putin’

Russian grand master Sergey Karjakin, runner-up in last year’s World Chess Championship, on Monday vowed his support for Vladimir Putin after several sports stars publicly backed the president. Putin is expected to stand for a fourth Kremlin term in 2018 but has not yet confirmed his candidature.

Karjakin, 27, gave no details on what his involvement in the campaign will be, but wrote on Twitter: “I’ve always openly supported Vladimir Putin but now I can finally do this officially. Putin team. I’m on the team!” He added a photo of him meeting Putin this summer.

A chess prodigy, Karjakin became the youngest ever grand master at 12. Last December he lost to Norwegian Magnus Carlsen at the World Chess Championship. Karjakin came forward after ice hockey star Alex Ovechkin, who plays in the United States, announced that he is starting a “social movement” called “Team Putin”.

“I am personally ready to be part of such a team,” Ovechkin wrote on November 2 on Instagram. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he welcomed the involvement of Ovechkin, who captains both the Russian team and the Washington Capitals.

“It goes without saying that we welcome Sasha’s desire to express support for our president, especially from abroad,” Peskov told journalists, using a shortening of Ovechkin’s first name. The Kremlin spokesman added however that he did not know what form this would take.

Ovechkin’s message in support of Putin has been “liked” more than 91,000 times. Sports stars including ice hockey veteran Pavel Bure said they backed Ovechkin’s initiative. Evgeni Malkin, who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Russian national team, on Sunday announced he was joining Ovechkin’s pro-Putin “team”.

He wrote on Instagram: “Putin team. I’m in the team of Alex Ovechkin,” posting a picture of himself with Putin in ice hockey gear. The Pittsburg Penguins visited US President Donald Trump in the White House last month while insisting this was unrelated to politics.

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