President Vladimir Putin has presented US action film star Steven Seagal with a Russian passport, the Associated Press reports. Putin called the gesture a sign of a thaw in relations with the United States, and it comes after he awarded Seagal Russian citizenship through a presidential decree earlier this month.
While it may seem strange that an actor known for playing Navy SEALs (1992’s Under Siege) and American patriots (1998’s direct-to-video The Patriot) would take to a Russian dictator with such gusto, Seagal has vocally defended Putin’s policies in recent years and become a regular visitor to Russia, even accompanying Putin to several martial arts events.
Putin personally handed over the 64-year-old actor’s Russian passport on Friday in a subdued ceremony at the Kremlin. According to the New York Times and Russian news agency TASS, Putin then told Seagal that the two would not “politicize” the exchange. “I would like to congratulate you, and I also hope that this small step will mark the beginning of the gradual improvement in our interstate relations,” he reportedly said.
Whereas some in the media might paint this event in a positive or even humorous light, it’s worth noting that Russia has become a less democratic and far more corrupt country since Putin came to power in 2000. He has been accused of jailing or poisoning his political opponents, subduing protests with violent police actions, and illegally violating a foreign country’s sovereignty with 2014’s annexation of Crimea. To deflect the public’s attention from these and other incidents, Putin has fostered a tough-guy image very much along the lines of a character in one of Seagal’s films, appearing bare-chested while riding horses or demonstrating his martial arts skills.
Seagal’s partnership with Putin only helps the Russian leader further promote this absurdity. Still, it may be a sign of things to come, as President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled an interest in building a better relationship with Russia, human rights violations be damned.
Watch a video of the signing ceremony below, via Russia Today.