Washington: In November 2016, Michigan-born martial artist and action film star Steven Seagal visited Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin to receive an unusual gift: his very own Russian passport.
Seagal's grandmother was born in Vladivostok, and the actor and Putin share a passion for martial arts. But Seagal has faced some criticism for his bromance with the controversial Russian leader: He has praised Putin's annexation of Crimea, for example, and last year, Kiev banned him from entering Ukraine for five years, claiming he has "committed socially dangerous actions" that could threaten their security.
But on Saturday, Russia honoured Seagal again, this time with a position as a special envoy to the United States.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Seagal has been appointed to a new role, which will apparently be unpaid. His responsibility will be to "facilitate relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field, including cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges".
In 2015, BuzzFeed News reported that two years earlier, Putin had suggested to then-President Barack Obama that he could make Seagal the honorary Russian consul to California and Arizona. "Our reaction was, 'You've got to be kidding,' " a US official told BuzzFeed, referring to the offer.
Russia isn't the only country offering overtures to Seagal. In 2016, Serbian state media reported that the government had offered Seagal citizenship for offering to open a martial arts academy in Belgrade.
Seagal, whose titles include 'Above the Law' and 'Out for Justice', does seem particularly interested in the former Soviet Union. He's also visited with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko. And in a 2013 interview with news channel RT, Seagal said he believed Putin "is one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today".