Putin Gives Depardieu Russian Passport

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MOSCOW - French actor Gerard Depardieu, intent on fleeing France's new steep taxes on its richest citizens, said today he was delighted to hear that President Putin approved his request for a Russian passport because "I love your country" and called Russia a "great democracy."

On Thursday, Putin signed a decree granting the actor Russian citizenship. That will allow him to enjoy Russia's 13 percent flat tax rate, which is substantially lower than the 75 percent rate introduced by France's new socialist government for income above 1 million Euros. Though a French court has struck down the tax hike, French President Francois Hollande has vowed to push ahead with the measure.

In a letter sent to Russia's state-owned Channel 1 television, and addressed to Russia's journalists, Depardieu welcomed the news, professed his love for Putin (which he claimed was mutual), and said he wanted to move to a village and learn Russian.

"Yes, I made a request for a passport, and I am pleased that my request has been accepted. I love your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers," he reportedly wrote.

"My father was once a communist and listened Radio Moscow, this is also a part of my culture," Depardieu wrote. He called Russia "a great democracy."

Depardieu is perhaps the most recognizable of a group of wealthy French citizens who have declared they will renounce their French citizenship to protest the take increase. He has already reportedly taken up residency in a tiny hamlet in neighboring Belgium and earlier this month expressed interest in moving to Russia. In order to give up his French passport, however, he needed to claim citizenship elsewhere. Today's announcement would appear to meet that requirement.

Asked about those reports at a year-end news conference, Putin said that if Depardieu wanted to move to Russia, he would welcome him with open arms.

"If he'd like to have a Russian passport, consider it settled," he said.

Putin and Depardieu have reportedly maintained a warm relationship and the actor has appeared at film events in Russia.

Putin's spokesman said Depardieu was receiving citizenship for his contributions to Russian culture.

"The thing is that Depardieu has been a part of large film projects and has acted many parts," Dmitri Peskov said, citing his portrayal of the famous Russian historical figure Grigory Rasputin in a 2011 television movie.

On Twitter, Deputy Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin wrote that he expects more wealthy foreigners to move to Russia once they learn about the low tax rates there.

Putin wasn't the only one offering Depardieu refuge from the taxman. Chechyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov also offered him residency in his region.