Despite being an international pariah and war criminal—who’s quite likely suffering from long COVID dementia—Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been disavowed by every celebrity he’s bonded with during his brutal 22-year reign.
By most accounts, 90s action star Steven Seagal is Putin’s closest American comrade, having met the ex-KGB goon through Bob Van Ronkel, an American businessman whose company, Doors to Hollywood, has been introducing western stars to Russia for two decades. Seagal and Putin quickly became “best friends,” Ronkel said, when he booked the martial artist and his band to play a gig for Putin in the former Soviet Republic.
Aside from being a blues guitarist, Seagal is also a 7th-degree black belt in aikido and is credited as the first foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in Japan. Putin is something of a practitioner himself.
Their friendship grew until, in 2016, Putin granted Seagal Russian citizenship and a matching passport. In 2018, he made the Out for Justice star a special U.S.-Russian envoy to promote peace between the superpowers, and Seagal was once even asked to train Serbia’s special police force.
Although rumors that the actor took their friendship so seriously that he went to Ukraine—where he was banned for five years in 2017 due to his Russian ties—to fight for Russia are not true, Seagal has not disowned his friend over one trifling unprovoked war.
“Most of us have friends and family in Russia & Ukraine,” he said last week. “I look at both as one family and really believe it is an outside entity spending huge sums of money on propaganda to provoke the two countries to be at odds with each other. My prayers are that both countries will come to a positive, peaceful resolution where we can live & thrive together in peace.”
Americans may have forgotten French actor Gerard Depardieu after 1990’s Green Card, but Putin did not, making him a Russian citizen in 2013 so that Depardieu could, as the New York Times put it, “avoid taxes in France.”
“I love your president, Vladimir Putin, very much and it’s mutual,” he told Russian news outlets at the time.
Last week, Depardieu compared Putin’s murderous invasion of a sovereign neighbor to a squabble between siblings, saying, “I am against this fratricidal war. I say ‘stop the weapons and negotiate.'”
Less known in the U.S. but still a man to contend with in Europe is Britain’s Bernie Ecclestone, the former chief executive of the Formula One Group, and perhaps the only person in the world of European car racing who doesn’t understand why September’s Russian Grand Prix in Sochi has been canceled.
Discussing the cancelation of the big race on Thursday, Ecclestone—who said of Putin in 2016 “He’s the guy who should run Europe. He will sort out this other business that is going on in Syria.”—explained, “It does not make sense whichever way you look at. There is no war in Russia to my knowledge so if it took place it would make no difference to anybody… This idea of trying to punish Russia this way in a sporting sense is not going to punish Putin at all.”
In 2015, Silvio Berlusconi, the disgraced former prime minister of Italy, knew he had at least one friend left among world leaders, saying, “In Italy, I have been relegated to the sidelines, but Putin has told me he is willing to give me citizenship, and entrust me with running the economy ministry.”
Berlusconi—who was banned from Ukraine in 2015 “in the interests of national security”—has yet to comment on the invasion but the onetime “bunga-bunga” sex party host is still staying active in politics, launching an online course on the subject this month.
“The idea is to give the kind of political preparation that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist these days,” Berlusconi said in February.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.