Moscow (AFP) - Russian star hockey player Artemi Panarin said strongman Vladimir Putin can "no longer tell good from bad" and that his time is up and he must go.
Speaking in an hour-long interview, the NHL star issued stinging criticism of Putin's 20 years in power, slamming "lawlessness", a lack of basic freedoms and television propaganda that pits Russians "against the entire world."
"The mistake of our society is that we treat him like a superhuman," the 27-year-old told Sports.ru journalist Alexander Golovin, referring to the Russian president.
"Everyone thinks that no one is better than Vladimir Vladimirovich. But this is just rubbish," he said.
"There are better (people) for sure."
The interview was posted on YouTube where it has racked up 12,000 likes since Thursday.
Nearly 26,000 people "liked" the interview on Panarin's Instagram account.
This month Panarin signed a seven-year deal worth $81.5 million with the New York Rangers, becoming Russia's highest-paid athlete, according to Sports.ru.
He said Putin has been in power for too long and should go.
"I think that he no longer can tell good from bad," he said in the interview, adding that Putin, who is an amateur hockey player, should hang up his boots.
"That's it, Vladimir Vladimirovich, sell your skates," Panarin said with a smile.
Putin's fourth term ends in 2024 but he has hinted he has no intention of quitting politics. His team are believed to be looking for ways to extend the Kremlin chief's reign.
Hockey is the strongman's beloved sport: he regularly plays with ministers and Kremlin-friendly billionaires.
Panarin, who grew up in the Urals, said he used to be a Putin fan but now he cannot even fathom the idea of him still being in power in a decade.
"There's no freedom of speech. No one can say anything," the hockey player said of his native country, adding that Russians kept electing Putin because they had no choice and did not know any better.
Panarin said his thinking was no different from that of average Russians but his time in the United States had changed him.
He also said that opposition leader Alexei Navalny's 2017 investigation accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption influenced his views.
Panarin is one of the first Russian athletes to publicly criticise Putin.
By contrast, NHL player Alexander Ovechkin has showered the Kremlin strongman with praise and started the PutinTeam social movement in 2017.