Depardieu Gets Russian Passport as Putin Keeps Pledge ; Decree Is Signed to Give French Actor Citizenship; 'Good Relations' Are Cited

By Herszenhorn, David M | International Herald Tribune, January 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Depardieu Gets Russian Passport as Putin Keeps Pledge ; Decree Is Signed to Give French Actor Citizenship; 'Good Relations' Are Cited


Herszenhorn, David M, International Herald Tribune


President Vladimir V. Putin had joked last month that if the French actor wanted to renounce his citizenship, Russia would open its doors. On Thursday, the doors swung open.

At the time, it seemed like a joke. President Vladimir V. Putin, at his annual news conference before more than 1,000 journalists last month, declared with a mixture of braggadocio and magnanimity that if one of the world's best-known Frenchmen, the actor Gerard Depardieu, really wanted to renounce his French citizenship, he would find the doors to Russia wide open -- with a residency permit and Russian citizenship his for the asking.

But since then, a public feud between Mr. Depardieu and French officials has only grown nastier, with Mr. Depardieu complaining of France's high tax rates on the wealthy and French politicians and commentators lambasting him for renouncing French citizenship and registering as a resident of Nechin, Belgium. And on Thursday the Kremlin announced that Mr. Putin had kept his promise by signing a decree to make Mr. Depardieu a citizen of Russia.

Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Mr. Putin, said that Mr. Depardieu had recently applied for citizenship through the Russian Embassy and that it had been granted in honor of his cultural achievements. "The thing is that Depardieu has been a part of large film projects and has acted many parts, including the part of Rasputin," Mr. Peskov told the Interfax news agency. "This film has not been shown here but it is a very bold and innovative interpretation of the character."

It seemed likely, however, that Mr. Putin also saw a poetic opportunity in the chance that Russia, which has been long known for losing wealthy citizens to the West, might claim one in return -- and not just anyone, but an instantly recognizable actor.

That Mr. Depardieu might find Russia an attractive place to settle down, or at least to declare as his official tax address, fits in well with a narrative that Mr. Putin has developed in recent months portraying Russia not just as a geopolitical equal of Western powers but also as superior in many respects, especially in terms of recent economic performance. At his news conference, he also suggested that Russia had a special understanding of the sensitivities of artists.

"On the whole, we made a recovery from the crisis even faster than other countries," Mr. Putin said. "Just look at the recession in Europe, while Russia has posted growth, albeit a modest one, but we still have a much better situation than in the once-prosperous euro zone, or even in the United States."

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a spokeswoman for the French government, said the decision to grant Mr. Depardieu a passport was "an exclusive prerogative of the head of the Russian state," Europe 1 radio reported.

If Mr. Depardieu chooses to take up Russian citizenship, he would potentially trade the steep French income tax rates, which he said now claim 85 percent of his income, and even Belgium rates of 60 percent or higher, for Russia's flat 13 percent income tax. …

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