Why is Gerard Depardieu becoming Russian?

It's a little hard to believe now, but during the 1990s, Gerard Depardieu was probably France's biggest international star, representing a quintessentially French archetype for moviegoers around the world. But the legion d'honneur winner and Oscar nominee's legacy in his home country is a bit more complicated now after he announced he was renouncing his French citizenship and has now -- apparently -- been granted a Russian passport by order of Vladimir Putin himself. 

In the last month, Depardieu has become the public face of France's tax exiles, wealthy citizens who have moved to places like Brussels and Switzerland to flee the steep taxe rates -- up to 75 percent -- that President Francois Hollande is looking those with an income of more than more than €1 million. (In an FP piece last August, former governor Haley Barbour suggested Mississippi as a destination for France disaffected 1 percenters. Strangely, Depardieu doesn't seem to have considered the Hospitality State.)

Depardieu decided to take the extra step of giving up his French passport last month after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called his decision to relocate to Belgium "shabby" and not "patriotic." During a televised press conference a few weeks ago, Putin -- seemingly joking -- suggested that Russia's arms would be open to Depardieu and the French actor apparently took him up on the offer:

[O]n Thursday, the Kremlin announced that Mr. Putin had kept his promise and had signed a decree making Mr. Depardieu a citizen of Russia.

A spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri Peskov, said that Mr. Depardieu had recently applied for citizenship, and that it was 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. Referring to a television movie about the mad monk, he added, “This film has not been shown here, but it is a very bold and innovative interpretation of the character.”

Depardieu is likely attracted by Russia's 13 percent income tax. There are places in the world with even lower rates -- some Gulf States and Carribean Islands have no income tax at all -- but they presumably wouldn't be as enthusiastic about making him a citizen. (Given the number of Russian billionaires who have fled the country since Putin came to power, he must relish the opportunity to claim a few well-heeled refugees from Western Europe.) The actor hasn't decided for sure on moving to Russia -- he's reportedly also considering staying in Belgium or moving to Montenegro.

Depardieu also likely has few objections to Putin's human rights record, as he has also appeared at the birthday of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and has agreed to star in a movie written by Gulnara Karimova -- the president of Uzbekistan's socialite daughter. Given Depardieu's recent citizenship troubles, a post-Soviet remake of Green Card might be timely.

ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images

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