French actor and newly minted Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu yesterday compared President Vladimir Putin with the late Pope John Paul II and said the ex-KGB agent was what Russia needed as a leader.
Depardieu is to shoot a new film in Moscow and the Chechen capital Grozny, as he settles into his new role as global ambassador of Russian culture.
The hulking actor received his new citizenship during a dinner with Putin in January after getting into a fight with the French authorities over a 75 per cent tax on the super rich.
He told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily in an interview published yesterday that he admired what Putin had done in his 13 years in charge.
"I have many Russian friends - Putin, for example," said the award-winning actor of films such as Cyrano de Bergerac.
"I will say what I think about Putin: the Russian nation needs a person just like this - with a Russian temper. Putin is trying to return just a bit of dignity back to the people.
"For me, he is like [former French president] Francois Mitterrand or Pope John Paul II."
The late pope was a staunch anti-Communist who was partially credited with helping to give strength to the pro-Western Solidarity movement in his native Poland in the 1980s.