Hollywood actor Gerard Depardieu, who has threatened to quit France to avoid higher taxes, received a Russian passport yesterday and 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 a meeting on Saturday with strongman President Vladimir Putin at his 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 600 kilometres southeast of Moscow.
Upon arrival Depardieu 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 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.
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 hand over the passport, his spokesman said.
Moscow's decision to grant citizenship to the film star was the latest volley in a row between Depardieu and the French government over its proposal to raise the tax rate on earnings of more than €1 million (HK$10.13 million) to 75 per cent. Depardieu will qualify for the 13 per cent tax rate if he spends at least six months of the year in Russia.
Television broadcast images of the Sochi meeting featuring Depardieu and Putin hugging each other and sharing a meal.