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Monday
Aug062018

Russia makes action star Steven Seagal a special humanitarian envoy to the US

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- It's one of the oddest, if not the toughest, roles he has ever played.

Steven Seagal, the 1990s action movie star, has been enlisted as a special envoy by Russia’s foreign ministry to help promote “cultural and humanitarian links” between the country and the United States.

Russia’s foreign ministry announced the appointment in a post on its Facebook account, saying Seagal would now serve as Special Representative for Russia-US Cultural Links, Cultural and Historical Heritage. The ministry said that Seagal's role would be to implement bilateral projects in education, the arts, science and sports, as well as preserving historical sites in the U.S. connected to both countries. “We appreciate Mr. Seagal’s willingness to use his experience and authority for promotion of the Russia-US public, cultural and humanitarian links as well as for building a more positive atmosphere in bilateral affairs. We wish him every success in this capacity,” said the post, which featured a photograph of Seagal in a red kimono and orange glasses.

The ministry said that Seagal’s role would be in a voluntary capacity, and that he would receive no remuneration for it. His task, the post said, would be “strengthening direct contacts, mutual understanding and trust between the Russian and American peoples.”

Seagal greeted the appointment on Twitter, writing in a post that he was “deeply humbled and honoured [sic].”

“I hope we can strive for peace, harmony and positive results in the world," he wrote. "I take this honour very seriously."

Seagal's appointment, though surprising, does not come out of the blue. In fact, it's just the latest in a series of roles he has played for Russia in recent years.

Made famous by films such as the 1992 hit, "Under Siege" -- and "Hard to Kill" in the twilight of his career -- Seagal has recast himself as a Buddhist guru, a purveyor of peace, and the face of an eclectic assortment of brands and products.

Declared a reincarnated lama by a Buddhist master in 1997, he also has another formal role as reserve deputy sheriff in Jefferson, Louisiana, for his reality show "Steven Seagal: Lawman."

Seagal has increasingly become a fixture in Russia -- where he says his grandmother was born -- and the former Soviet Union. For the past five years, Seagal has become a sort of wandering court entertainment for leaders in former Soviet countries. He was photographed in 2016 eating a carrot with Belarus’ president Aleksander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator. Last year, he appeared at the Nomad Games competition held in Kyrgyzstan, riding a horse in a full suit of armor.

But it is in Russia and with president Vladimir Putin that he has cultivated his most significant relationship. The two have regularly appeared together, making a public show of bonding around martial arts. Seagal has heaped praise on the Russian president, calling him “one of the greatest leaders in the world.”

Seagal’s love affair with Russia has also benefited him. A frequent guest at elite Russian events, he has also become friendly with other senior Russian officials, including Dmitry Rogozin, a former deputy prime minister who has overseen that nation's arms industry.

In 2013, Rogozin invited Seagal to be a business envoy for Russia's largest arms factor.

Seagal has also adopted the Kremlin’s views on many issues. He has rejected allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. 2016 election, telling a British television show it was “stupid” to think so. He has embraced Putin’s position on Crimea too, calling Russia’s seizure of the peninsula from Ukraine “very reasonable’ and performing there with his blues band. Those comments helped get him banned from Ukraine in 2014.

In 2016, Seagal was given Russian citizenship, handed his passport personally by Putin.

The idea that Seagal could act as an intermediary between the U.S. and Russia occurred to the Kremlin some years ago, according to Buzzfeed News. The news site has reported that during a meeting on the sidelines of a G-8 summit in Northern Ireland in 2013, Putin himself had suggested to then-president Barack Obama that Seagal become an honorary consul to Russia in California and Arizona and thus a possible bridge between the White House and the Kremlin.

The Americans turned down the idea, according to Buzzfeed.

“Our reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” a U.S. official who was present at the meeting told the site.

Seagal is not the only star that has been pulled into Putin's orbit. The Russian president has collected something of a strange menagerie of aging foreign celebrities over the years -- in an attempt, perhaps, to burnish his own strongman image.

French actor Gerard Depardieu received Russian citizenship during a tax dispute in 2013. So did Jeff Monson, the mixed martial arts star in May, following the former World Heavyweight Boxing champion, Roy Jones Jr. in 2015.

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