Why did Putin make Steven Seagal a Russian citizen?

The actor, who is part Russian, says he has 'huge respect and affection for Russia. As well as my own country.'

Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) and US actor Steven Seagal shake hands after visiting an oceanarium built on Russky Island, in the Russian Far Eastern port of Vladivostok.

With all the warm embrace of a tersely worded decree, Vladimir Putin extended Thursday what could be described as an olive branch to an American citizen who has praised the Russian president despite rising tensions between the two former cold war foes.

The Kremlin announced on its website that Mr. Putin had granted Russian citizenship to actor Steven Seagal, best known for his starring role in martial arts movies of the 1990s.

Mr. Seagal has appeared with Putin, a long-time friend, during official events and martial arts demonstrations, and he has, as recently as September, publicly expressed a desire to become Russian, as NPR reported. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have clashed over allegations of politically motivated hacking and conflicting agendas in the Syrian conflict, resulting in a bilateral breakdown that former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev attributed to a "collapse of mutual trust."

Seagal – whom Putin had suggested to serve as an honorary Russian consul in California and Arizona, as the BBC reported – said in a statement published by Russian news agency TASS that he has always felt the United States and Russia "should be best friends and allies."

"Despite the unfortunate propaganda going on I remain fully committed to work tirelessly towards this end and I am tremendously grateful for this opportunity," Segal said, noting that his father's side of the family is primarily from the Russian city Vladivostok and that he has friends and family scattered about the former Soviet states.

"I have a huge respect and affection for Russia. As well as my own country," Seagal added.

The Moscow Times described Seagal's receipt of Russian citizenship as following the example of "other Western celebrities with an affinity for Putin's machismo." In 2013, French actor Gerard Depardieu was granted a Russian passport as he battled the new socialist government in his home country over a new tax law. And in 2015, American heavyweight boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. accepted Russian citizenship in what, as The Christian Science Monitor correspondent Lisa Suhay wrote, could be less about US race relations than Putin's "ongoing campaign to collect political trophies." (Mr. Jones had said his move was motivated at least in part by an expectation that Russia would be more accepting.)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose career as a high-profile businessman has included stints as a reality television star on "The Apprentice," has similarly praised Putin's tough leadership style – though he dialed back the laudatory rhetoric last month amid criticism from Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and others.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Seagal had applied and lobbied for the Russian citizenship.

"He had been really persistent for a long time and been asking to grant him citizenship, he is actually renown for his quite warm feelings toward our country," Mr. Peskov said, as Sputnik reported. "He never made a secret out of it, at the same time he is quite famous, as you know, actor."

The TASS report notes that Seagal "has so far starred in more than 120 movies" alongside a number of Hollywood stars, including Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Caine, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny Trejo.

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