French actor Gerard Depardieu (left) hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. RIGHT: A page in Depardieu’s new Russian passport with his photograph.
MOSCOW: French actor Gerard Depardieu, who has threatened to quit his homeland to avoid higher taxes, has received a Russian passport and yesterday an offer of residence in a central Russia region known for Stalin-era Gulag labour camps.
The former Oscar nominee travelled to snow-covered Mordovia after he met on Saturday with strongman President Vladimir Putin at his sumptuous Black Sea villa in the resort town of Sochi for friendly banter over a meal.
Depardieu was seen on Russian television being greeted with folk songs and showing off his new red passport to his Mordovia hosts in Saransk, the regional capital of around 300,000 people located about 600km southeast of Moscow.
Upon arrival, Depardieu, who wore no hat and left his coat unbuttoned, was greeted by young women wearing national costumes and served blini, or pancakes, before touring a local history museum.
The Interfax news agency reported from Saransk that local governor Vladimir Volkov had made the French actor an offer to pick an apartment or a place to build a house in Mordovia.
“I am very happy, it’s very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here,” Interfax quoted the actor as saying.
The French film star also expressed a desire to see a monument to Yemelyan Pugachev, the leader of one of the most violent peasant rebellions in the 18th century who he reportedly wants to play.
Mordovia is famous for its harsh climate and a large number of prison camps, which appeared in the 1930s as part of the Stalin-era GULAG system of forced labour camps. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot punk band, is serving her two-year prison sentence in Mordovia, after she and her band mates performed an anti-Putin song in a church last year.
Depardieu was travelling to the region on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas which Russia celebrates on January 7 and was also taken to a cathedral.
Among the gifts the star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Green Card” received in Mordovia were a pair of felt boots, or valenki, and two kittens for his new Russian home, television said.
On Saturday, Putin granted Depardieu “a short meeting” but did not personally deliver the passport to the actor, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said — although he did not say where and when the actor was handed his passport. AFP