In an ending fit for Hollywood, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday presented American action star Steven Seagal with a freshly minted Russian passport, consummating an odd-couple bromance that has blossomed despite years of dark relations between the two men's respective countries.
Seagal is the latest of an aging generation of movie stars and sportsmen to take Russian citizenship, including French actor Gerard Depardieu in 2013 and boxer Roy Jones Jr. in 2015. Celebrated here for '90s action flicks and YouTube compilations of him swearing in accented Russian, Seagal has become something of a cross-cultural confidant to Putin.
In a 2013 interview with RT, Seagal called him "one of the greatest world leaders if not the greatest world leader alive today." The men have at least two things in common: a love of martial arts and a dislike of the West's criticism of Moscow.
Seagal now has dual citizenship.
On Friday, Seagal accepted his new passport with an Aikido-inspired bow, a photograph distributed by the Russian tabloid LifeNews showed.
"I want to congratulate you and express the hope that this is another, albeit small, gesture and it might be a sign of the gradual normalization of relations between our countries," Putin told Seagal, according to Reuters. ("Spasibo Bolshoye," or "thank you very much," the star of "Under Siege" and "Exit Wounds" replied.) The Kremlin first announced it had granted Seagal citizenship earlier this month.
Seagal, whose grandmother was born in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, has made repeated, and often controversial, trips to Russia. In 2013, he met Chechnya's leader, strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, and danced an impromptu lezginka. In 2014, he joined a group of pro-Putin motorcyclists at a rally in the recently annexed peninsula of Crimea. A 2015 report by BuzzFeed News said that Putin suggested Seagal as an honorary consul to improve relations between the two countries.
The Moscow mobile operator Megafon has begun releasing advertisements with Seagal, including a version of the "mannequin challenge" at a recent press event.