American martial arts expert Steven Seagal and Russian President Vladimir Putin are such good friends that Putin has now granted this 90s Hollywood actor Russian citizenship, reports the BBC. The actor, who too has regards for Putin, describes him as “one of the greatest world leaders.” Putin signed a decree to make the award to the American actor.

Steven Seagal
Image: Flickr

Why did Steven Seagal get Russian citizenship?

On Thursday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it has long been Steven Seagal’s wish to get Russian citizenship, and he had been asking for it persistently. According to Putin’s spokesman, Steven Seagal’s warm feelings towards the country and his popularity as an actor there are the reasons for him getting Russian citizenship.

Steven Seagal made headlines after he described Russia’s actions in Crimea as “very reasonable.” Seagal, who is also a keen guitarist, played a concert there the very same year. Seagal specializes in martial arts, and this has brought him and Russia closer. In 2013 on Russian television, Seagal recounted his first meeting Putin, according to the Associated Press.

“The first time I walked into his home I saw a life-sized statue of Kano Jigoro, who is the founder of judo, so I was immediately taken and impressed and sort of wanting to get to know this man deeper and deeper.”

Seagal’s grandmother was a resident of Vladivostok in Russia, and he has made frequent trips to Russia in recent years. In September, he visited Kamchatka and Sakhalin as well. Russia’s Tass news agency reported that Seagal said during his visit that he was interested in spending several months each year in the country.

Putin and Steven Seagal: their history

Putin reportedly proposed in 2013 that Seagal be made an honorary consul of Russia in California and Arizona. The U.S. refused the proposal, which would have had made Seagal a potential intermediary between the White House and the Kremlin, reported Buzzfeed.

Putin’s push for national athleticism before the Sochi Olympics also improved the bond between him and the American actor. In the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Putin went on a campaign to preach physical fitness. At that time, he enlisted Seagal, who is famous for beating up bad guys in movies like Fire Down Below and Under Siege, to sell his vision.

Seagal is not the only celebrity to get Russian citizenship. There have been several before him: French actor Gerard Depardieu, American boxer Roy Jones, American mixed martial arts fighter Jeff Monson and American snowboarder Vic Wild, notes BBC. Seagal also offered to set up a martial arts school in Belgrade, after which he was given Serbian citizenship earlier this year.

The actor has been seen in movies like Flight of Fury. He also worked on a U.S. reality TV show of his own, Steven Seagal: Lawman. With the Russian citizenship, the actor might get an opportunity to polish his film career with new opportunities and funding. The actor, who was in Kyrgyzstan in September, said he had a more lofty ambition of bringing all people together to live in harmony.

Photo by Gage Skidmore