If you think Donald Trump’s budding bromance with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is strong, you ain’t seen nothing yet. For a true love affair between two stuck-in-the-‘80s caricatures, look no further than another bloated orange celebrity: Steven Seagal. The Under Siege star received his Russian citizenship on Thursday after Putin issued a presidential decree, according to NPR. Seagal’s grandparents were Russian Jews, and he has an absurd history with Russian politics and culture.
BuzzFeed ran a detailed account of Seagal’s cozy relationship with Russia, and the more you read, the stranger it gets. He opened a Planet Hollywood in Moscow in the ‘90s, which was later converted into a strip club. After visiting a Buddhist province in Russia in 2002 to play a game of chess with their leader, he attempted to get Putin to support a deranged millionaire’s immortality scheme in 2011 by penning him a letter. The two met that same year.
Putin and Seagal are both martial arts fanatics—in addition to co-starring in crap films with DMX and Ja Rule, Seagal is, in fact, a 7th-dan black belt in Aikido—so Seagal has hosted multiple martial arts demonstrations in Russia over the past few years, including an infamous 2015 demonstration wherein the actor turned reality show lawman schooled a series of curiously compliant assistants in Aikido. The whole charade was reminiscent of Putin’s bogus, Gretzky-esque exploits on the ice. Seagal even went to the 2012 Olympics in London and met the Russian Judo team with Putin. Both men are known for their very public, very dubious displays of masculinity.
Putin believes in Seagal’s fighting prowess to the point that he relaunched a Soviet-era fitness program called “Ready for Labor and Defense” with the actor’s help in 2014. This was shortly after Russia won the most medals of any country in the Sochi Olympics amid allegations of doping. The program essentially prepares Russians to be elite fighting machines, a la Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.
It gets even more bizarre. Remember that time John Oliver tried to help the Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov find his lost cat? Seagal met with Kadyrov in 2013, posed for photos, and then became something of a diplomat for the region shortly after.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher wanted to pay a visit to the region after the 2013 Boston marathon bombing because one of the terrorists behind the attack, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had apparently spent six months in Dagestan in 2012. And when you’re a representative of the federal government, who better to reach out to for help with international affairs than Steven Seagal.
After weighing many different options for how to get Rohrabacher and a group of other representatives who wanted to learn more about the region across the globe, Seagal successfully arranged a trip that culminated in the politicians meeting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. They didn’t break open the terror case because of this mission, but Seagal did get them in the same room as a significant Russian leader.
Seagal also tried his damnedest to get these political rabble-rousers a meeting with the aforementioned Chechen despot Kadyrov, who has been accused of murder on numerous occasions, but they didn’t have time or a way to get to Chechnya. Seagal went as far as offering up his private plane, but taking a ride in it would have broken Congressional ethics rules. Kadyrov’s many alleged human rights abuses may have also had something to do with it.
All of this starts to seem inconsequential when you consider that Vladimir Putin himself proposed the idea of Steven Seagal acting as a sort of middle man for U.S.-Russia relations. When Putin and President Obama met at the G8 summit in 2013, Putin proposed the idea of Seagal becoming an “honorary consul” for Russia. An honorary consul is someone with no diplomatic privileges who can nonetheless represent a country in certain respects. The Obama administration of course found this idea to be laughable and did not pursue the matter. “Our reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” an unnamed official told BuzzFeed.
The washed-up actor is not shy about praising the Russian president, either. “I know him well enough to know that he is one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today,” he said in 2014. “He cares more about Russia than anybody I know. And he’s not afraid to get up and do what needs to be done. Seagal also gave a wacky interview to Rossiskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s daily propaganda newspaper, where he praised Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Putin’s relationship with Seagal isn’t necessarily surprising when you observe the many ways Putin has tried to increase his star power at home by palling around with formerly macho American film stars. Putin has also made friends with both Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who believes the Illuminati is the only thing preventing Donald Trump from becoming the next President of the United States.
Nina Khrushcheva, who teaches international affairs at the New School in New York, told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2013 that Putin’s use of celebrities has “been a primary part of his politics... It’s partly a Soviet-era practice.” As the BuzzFeed piece noted, the oppressive ruler sees himself as a strong male celebrity.
“Putin’s macho persona, fashioned by his spin doctors when he came to power as a virtual unknown, is key to the cult of his celebrity,” the BuzzFeed piece states. “He channels action movie images in televised stunts that paint him as the emblem of the strong, resurgent Russia he seeks to build. He flew in a hang glider with endangered cranes and shot a tiger with a tranquilizer dart. He took to the Siberian wilderness shirtless, riding a horse, swimming in a lake, and stomping through the Tuvan bush with a hunting rifle. ‘He plays an action hero as president,’ said Fiona Hill, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who co-authored Mr. Putin, a study of his personae.”
Perhaps Putin’s manliest moment was when he released the infamous 2008 DVD “Let’s Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin.”
One might argue that if Putin does love Trump the way many claim he does, it’s because he’s seen as a dominant male celebrity who doesn’t take shit from anyone. How that qualifies you for a desk in the Oval Office, I’m not sure. We don’t know for sure if Seagal supports Trump, but he sure hates President Obama. And now that Putin has fast-tracked the sketchy actor’s Russian citizenship, it seems his years of dictator devotion have paid off.