Putin Critic Artemi Panarin Takes Leave of Absence From NHL After Russian Paper Publishes Hit Piece

The story is believed to be a response to Panarin's public criticism of Russia's president

New York Rangers Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers looks on during warmups.
NHLI via Getty Images

New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons after a Russian newspaper published a story alleging he beat up an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011 based on allegations from his former KHL coach.

Published on Monday, the ALhockey.ru article claims Panarin “sent the 18-year-old citizen of Latvia to the floor with several powerful blows” while drinking with his teammates at a hotel bar following a loss. His ex-coach, Andrei Nazarov, claims a criminal case against the star winger was opened in Latvia but somebody paid “a sum of 40k Euro cash” to stop the case.

According to the New York Post, Nazarov’s claims and the subsequent newspaper story are politically motivated and have to do with Panarin’s outspoken criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last month, Panarin posted a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Instagram with a caption that translates to “Freedom for Navalny.”

“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement Monday. “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 fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”

Multiple people with knowledge of the situation confirmed Panarin believes the allegations against him are retribution for his opposition to Putin, according to USA Today.

Panarin still has family members who live in Russia so it is possible he is taking time away from the team in order to ensure their safety or attempt to get them out of the country.

 “The mistake in our society is treating [Putin] like a superhuman,” Panarin said in 2019. “He is a regular person, like us, and he is serving us… Yes, to be a president you have to be smart and enlightened, but our biggest mistake, among many, is thinking that we have nobody better than Vladimir Vladimirovich. This is nonsense. How many million people live here? No question there is someone better. American cities are developing thanks to local taxes which stay in the state. But here, a lot of money goes to Moscow, so people everywhere work for Moscow’s benefit. I always thought it’s unfair.”

A finalist for the Hart Trophy last season, the 29-year-old has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 14 games this season. It is unclear when he will be returning to the ice.

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