Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced Saturday that it had made Michigan-born actor Steven Seagal, 66, its “special representative” for improving Russian-U.S. relations.
According to the ministry, the position was created to deepen humanitarian ties, as well as cultural, art and youth ties between the two countries. The ministry announced the move on its Facebook page on Saturday evening, local time.
The announcement gives a nod to 2016, when Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a Russian passport to the American actor, saying that he hoped it could be symbolic of how Moscow’s historically contentious relationship with Washington was beginning to improve.
Seagal was also granted Serbian citizenship in 2016 after several visits to the Balkan country, the BBC reports.
WATCH: Vladimir Putin presents Russian passport to Steven Seagal
Shortly after the presentation, however, relations between the two countries took a turn for the worse as U.S. intelligence agencies began accusing Moscow of interfering with the election of now-U.S. president Donald Trump.
In addition, Russian officials have been accused of attempting to interfere with the current operations of the Trump administration, which Moscow has repeatedly denied.
“It’s a case of people’s diplomacy intersecting with traditional diplomacy,” the ministry said of the appointment, likening Seagal’s role to that of a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Seagal, who is known for his affinity for martial arts, will receive no salary in his new role.
Seagal praised Putin as “one of the great living world leaders” when he was granted Russian citizenship, and first received notoriety in the 1980s and 90s for roles in pictures such as Under Siege and Flight of Fury. He has also been accused of sexual misconduct by several women amid the viral #MeToo campaign, which he has denied.
The star has also spoken out in defence of Putin amid claims that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the BBC reports.
Seagal, who occasionally appears on Russian state TV to talk about his views and career, was cited by Kremlin-backed TV station RT as welcoming the appointment.
“I’ve always had a very strong desire to do all I can to help improve Russian-American relations,” RT cited Seagal as saying. “I have worked tirelessly in this direction for many years unofficially and I am now very grateful for the opportunity to do the same thing officially.”
According to Seagal’s own website, the 66-year-old has been a regular visitor to Russia for over a decade. Russia. His movies, including such titles as Under Siege and Sniper: Special Ops, are popular with Russian audiences.
President Putin is also a fan of the kind of martial arts that Seagal often practiced in his Hollywood action movies.
— With files from Reuters.
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