Why Depardieu has a friend in Putin

January 3, 2013

MOSCOW – Not quite halfway through Russia’s nine-day New Year’s break (yes, nine days), the Kremlin announced on its Web site Thursday that President Vladimir Putin had granted Russian citizenship to the French actor Gerard Depardieu.

A picture taken on December 11, 2010 shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaking with French actor Gerard Depardieu as they tour Russky (Russian) Museum in St. Petersburg. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI POOL
A picture taken on December 11, 2010 shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaking with French actor Gerard Depardieu as they tour Russky (Russian) Museum in St. Petersburg. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI POOL

The hefty 64-year-old has vowed to give up his French passport over high taxes. He told friends in December, according to Le Monde, that he was considering a Belgian, Montenegrin or Russian substitute. In a December press conference, Putin said, in a seemingly light-hearted vein, that he’d be welcome in Russia.

Since then, though, it has been reported that Depardieu has bought a house in Belgium, just over the border from France, so Putin’s move Thursday came as something of a surprise.

Depardieu is no stranger to Russia. He appeared in a recent ad for a Russian bank, and in 2011, he was on location in Archangel for a French TV film in which he played Grigory Rasputin, the mad monk of pre-Soviet fame.

Just this past November he showed up in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, as a guest of the Russian region’s satrap, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was celebrating a birthday. Kadyrov has ruthlessly eliminated his opposition over the years since his own father, who preceded him in office, was assassinated.

A video shows Depardieu shouting on stage, in accented Russian, “Glory to Grozny! Glory to Chechnya! Glory to Kadyrov!”

The actor has also taken part in a recently released duet with the daughter of Islam Karimov, the president of Russia’s Central Asian neighbor, Uzbekistan. Karimov was once accused by a former British ambassador of boiling one of his enemies to death. The duet is entitled, “Soundless is the Sky.”

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Olga Khazan | January 3, 2013