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.
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.”