MOSCOW — At the time, it seemed like a joke. President Vladimir Putin, of Russia, at his annual news conference last month, said that if one of the world’s best-known Frenchmen, actor Gérard Depardieu, 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.
The public feud between Depardieu and French officials has continued to simmer over Depardieu’s earlier complaint about France’s high tax rates on the wealthy. French politicians and commentators lambasted him for renouncing his French citizenship and registering as a resident of Néchin in Belgium, which has lower taxes. Thursday, the Kremlin said Putin had signed a decree making Depardieu a citizen of Russia.
A spokesman for Putin, Dmitri Peskov, said Depardieu had recently applied for citizenship, and 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,” Peskov told the Interfax news agency.
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In a letter to Russia’s Channel One television station, Depardieu confirmed he applied for Russian citizenship and said he was “happy” the request was granted. “I adore your country, Russia, your people, your history and your writers,” he wrote, adding that his father was a Communist who listened to Moscow radio.
It seemed likely that Putin saw a poetic opportunity in the chance for Russia, long known for losing wealthy citizens to the West, to claim one in return — and not just anyone, but a macho actor instantly recognizable by a giant nose that seems made for sniffing Bordeaux by the barrel.
That Depardieu might find Russia an attractive place in which to settle, or at least to declare as his official tax address, fits in well with a narrative that Putin has developed in recent months portraying Russia not just as a geopolitical equal of Western powers, but as superior in many respects, especially in terms of its performance during the economic downturn. “On the whole, we made a recovery from the crisis even faster than other countries,” Putin said.
If Depardieu chooses to take up Russian citizenship, he would potentially trade steep French income-tax rates, which he said now claim 85 percent of his income, and even Belgian rates of 60 percent or higher, for Russia’s flat 13 percent income tax. The value-added tax, a sales tax on goods and services, is 18 percent in Russia compared with nearly 20 percent in France, while Russian social-security taxes are 30 percent compared with 50 percent in France.
A spokeswoman for the French government, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said Thursday that the decision to grant Depardieu a passport was “an exclusive prerogative of the head of the Russian state,” and declined to comment further, Europe 1 radio reported.