The actor said this week that he was handing in his French passport and fleeing the country because of tax increases by president François Hollande. Many pointed out that the 63-year-old had recently bought a home in neighbouring Belgium – but Depardieu’s destination may lie elsewhere.
Russian media kicked up a storm on Wednesday after Depardieu joked to French newspaper Le Monde that “Putin has already sent me a passport!” Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, was forced to clarify that the actor “was likely joking”.
The message did not reach Ramzan Kadyrov, the ruthless leader of Chechnya, a mainly Muslim republic that has settled into a weary peace after being torn apart by two separatist wars after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“Depardieu is separating from France. I will not undertake evaluating this act,” Kadyrov wrote on his official Twitter account. “If he is given Russian citizenship, we are ready to accept the actor in Grozny. Welcome.”
Depardieu is no stranger to the Chechen capital, having visited in October for City Day, which happens to be celebrated on Kadyrov’s birthday. Video from the event shows him shouting from a vast stage in Russian: “Glory to Grozny! Glory to Chechnya! Glory to Kadyrov!”
Kadyrov has been accused of overseeing widespread human rights abuses in the republic, including torture and extrajudicial killings.
Those sorts of accusations don’t appear to bother Depardieu. He has recently struck up a friendship with Gulnara Karimova, the ruthless daughter of Islam Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan. He contributed vocals to a song by Karimova, who goes by the stage name GooGoosha, and has agreed to star in a film she wrote.
In a letter to Le Journal du Dimanche, Depardieu explained his decision to flee France. “Despite my excesses, my appetite and my love of life, I remain a free man,” he wrote.