Newly minted Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu didn’t wait long to glorify his new homeland and President Vladimir Putin. Less than 24 hours after the Russian leader granted him citizenship, the actor promised to learn Russian and settle down in Moscow’s suburbs, and confessed to loving Russia, Russian literature, and Putin.
Indeed, it seems the first Russian word Depardieu—who is leaving France, reportedly to avoid high taxes—learned was slava, or “glory.” “Slava Chechnya! Slava Kadyrov!” the French actor told a birthday celebration for Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny last October. To the frustration of Russian liberals, Depardieu, 64, failed to meet with any ordinary Chechens to discuss human-rights issues during his visit to the war-torn region. Nor did he make himself available to any independent reporters in Moscow on Friday; instead, he wrote an open letter addressed to a pro-Kremlin state television channel. The actor noted that Russia had “a great democracy.”
Russian-language websites were rife with negative speculation about the real reasons the French star was praising Russia. On LiveJournal, bloggers wondered what price the Kremlin had to pay to persuade Depardieu to “love Putin’s terror, which has turned millions of Russian lives into hell.” On Facebook, there was a discussion about who in the Kremlin would get to share the tax money that Depardieu would save by escaping to Russia. Another Russian word the actor might learn, the commenters proposed, was raspilit, or "kickback." Others suggested that Putin’s newly arrived friend might first try to live in Siberia, take public transport wearing a fur coat, and stick Band-Aids to the soles of his shoes to avoid slipping on the icy sidewalks.
The citizenship offer is yet another Kremlin attempt to show the world, “Look, this one is with us!” said the satirist and journalist Victor Shenderovich said. Speaking on the radio station Echo of Moscow, Shenderovich said bitterly of Depardieu: “He became a Russian citizen to replace the 3 million Russians who have escaped Russia in the Putin era.”
Following in Depardieu’s footsteps, French actress turned animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot on Friday threatened to apply for Russian citizenship if two circus elephants in southern France are euthanized. In response, the Russian opposition activist Olga Kurnosova posted an open letter on Facebook explaining to Bardot that Putin granted Depardieu citizenship purely for public-relations reasons “that were profitable for the current Russian government.”
Official Moscow hailed the arrival of the French actor as the biggest news of the week. Kremlin officials complimented Depardieu on his leading role in a Franco-Russian film about Rasputin—“It is a very bold and innovative interpretation of the character,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov—and on his upcoming portrayal of another Russian hero, the pre-Revolutionary rebel Pugachev. Meanwhile, higher-ranking officials spoke proudly of potential opportunities for tax dodgers. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared that, when the world sees what Russia has to offer, there will be “a massive migration of rich Europeans to Russia.”
But to many Russian intellectuals, Depardieu’s escape to Moscow looks absurd. “Go to Volokalamsk or Magnitogorsk, where people are wondering how to survive from pension check to pension check or how to fix their leaky roof,” said Leonid Heifetz, a Moscow theater director and professor at the Russian University of Theater. “The entire story is laughable and has zero significance for the everyday lives of Russian people.”