Russian President Vladimir Putin presented Hollywood action star Steven Seagal with a Russian passport on Friday saying that he hoped that it showed how the dark relations between Russia and the U.S. are starting to improve.
The “gesture” occurred in the form of an official ceremony in the Kremlin where Seagal signed his new passport in Putin’s physical presence, with the Russian president saying, “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.”
When Putin then asked how he was doing, the actor replied that “everything is good. We will talk later. For now just honored to be here.” Russian media released video of the bizarre ceremony.
Putin, who is a fan of the kind of martial arts that Seagal often practices in his movies, signed an order at the start of this month to grant Russian citizenship to Seagal. At the time, a spokesman cited Seagal’s “warm feelings towards Russia” and his celebrity as the reasons for granting the gesture.
The American actor is part of the latest of an aging group of movie stars and sports figures who have been granted Russian citizenship. French actor Gerard Depardieu and boxer Roy Jones Jr. received citizenship in the country in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
Seagal, who for more than a decade has been a regular visitor to Russia, is celebrated in the country for his action flicks late in the last century, such as ‘Under Siege’ and ‘Sniper: Special Ops,’ and YouTube compilations of him swearing with an accent in Russian.
The actor’s grandmother was born in Vladivostok, a city in eastern Russia. His visits have not been without controversy. In 2013, he met Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov — a staunch Putin supporter and martial arts enthusiast, whose social media posts have been the subject of ridicule in the U.S. — and danced a lezginka. In 2014, the action hero joined a group of pro-Putin motorcyclists at a rally in the recently annexed peninsula of Crimea.
According to The Washington Post, “the Moscow mobile operator Megafon has begun releasing advertisements with Seagal.” One of them is a version of the “mannequin challenge” set at a recent press conference.
During the same period, relations between Moscow and Washington have continuously deteriorated to what many believe is their worst since the Cold War, fueled in large part by the conflicts in the Ukraine — the subject of Seagal’s motorcycle run — and Syria.