Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who was granted Russian citizenship, met President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after receiving his new passport, according to a statement on the Kremlin's website.
Two photographs on the site show the actor, who played Grigory Rasputin in a 2011 film about the peasant monk famous for his mystical influence over Russia's last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra, dining with Putin yesterday and embracing him. Depardieu and Putin discussed the actor's work in the Franco-Russian production, according to the statement.
Depardieu's new passport is "good news for Russian cinema," French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac said today on Europe 1 radio. Still, "I find it a bit ludicrous that for tax reasons, this man decided to exile himself so far to the east."
Depardieu, who bought a home in Belgium and applied for citizenship there before Putin offered a Russian passport, said he did so to flee taxes imposed on the wealthy by French President Francois Hollande.
The actor wrote in an open letter to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault published in the French weekly Journal du Dimanche last month that his tax rate had hit 85 percent and he is leaving "because you consider that success, creativity, talent, anything different, are grounds for sanction."
Depardieu "began by being in love with Belgium," Benoit Hamon, France's social economy deputy minister, said in an interview, according to Le Parisien today. "There he is today in love with Russia. It's sad."
Depardieu says he's developed close links with Russia, which has a flat 13 percent personal income tax rate. He currently appears as the face of Bank Sovietsky in an ad campaign on its website and was among Western celebrities invited last year to the birthday of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Vladimir Volkov, the head of the Russian Republic of Mordovia, said Depardieu can fill the vacant seat of Minister for Culture, RIA Novosti reported today. "If Mr Depardieu desires it, he may be offered the post," the news agency cited Volkov as saying after the French actor travelled to Mordovia's capital of Saransk, about 600 kilometers east of Moscow.
Depardieu was offered the chance to settle in the city and choose an apartment or house to live in a region known during Stalin's reign for its network of prison camps.
He may soon be joined in Russia by fellow French actor Brigitte Bardot, who once served as a model for Marianne, the symbol of the French republican. The former screen siren, now an animal rights activist, wrote to Hollande last week to protest the plan to put down two elephants living in a Lyon zoo after they were diagnosed with tuberculosis and threatened to leave for Russia.
"I've decided to ask for Russian citizenship to flee this country that is nothing more than an animal graveyard," she said in the Jan. 4 statement on her foundation's website.