Seagal, star of Above the Law, Under Siege, and Out for Justice, is apparently tight with President Vladimir Putin, who is also known for his excessive displays of manliness. "Putin and Seagal have long been friends, and they regularly meet each other," Putin's spokesperson said shortly after the two were seen lunching and watching a judo match together.
Seagal isn't just a tourist. In March, he helped Putin promote a physical fitness program for children called Ready for Labour and Defense, originally introduced by Lenin in the 1930s.
This week, Seagal agreed to advertise rifles made by his friend, billionaire Igor Kesayev, to U.S. consumers. He was also asked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to lobby for less restrictive U.S. gun laws regulating modern Russian rifles.
Considering that he has played multiple CIA agents (and, lest we forget, an employee of the EPA), perhaps it's no surprise that some members of the U.S. government have coveted his Russian connections — specifically, a six-member congressional delegation including Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).
In May, he facilitated meetings between the delegation and Russian officials as part of a House investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings. He even got the representatives meetings with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to Russia's KGB.
"Because of his black belt in karate and things, he's gotten to know many of the leaders of Russia, including Putin, and was able to use that influence to make sure we got to talk to the very top people, so that we could try to find ways of expanding our areas of cooperation," Rohrabacher said on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.
Seagal is actually a black belt in Aikido, not karate. But as evidenced by his traditional Chechen dancing skills, his moves are deadly in any discipline:
As the video attests, Seagal is also close with Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed strongman who has ruled Chechnya with an iron fist. Seagal also reportedly tried to set up a visit to Chechnya for the congressional delegation, but the representatives declined, likely because they didn't want to be associated with Kadyrov, who has been accused of human rights abuses. That doesn't seem to bother Seagal, who has made appearances on Kadyrov's bizarre Instagram account.
What is behind Steven Seagal's connection with Russia?
Seagal claims to have Russian roots, telling Dozhd TV, "I'm Russian, I love Russia, I love Russian people, and I love your president. I really like that he does so much to support martial arts in Russia."
According to Reuters, his films are still popular there, which might explain the plots of his recent straight-to-video films A Dangerous Man, in which he teams up with the Russian mafia to fight Chinese drug lords, and Driven to Kill, in which he plays an ex-Russian mobster.
The relationship benefits both parties. Russia gets a celebrity mouthpiece and Seagal earns a reprieve from D-list obscurity, not to mention whatever people like Kesayev are offering him to hawk Russian products.
Filmmaker Noah Gittell has his own theory on why Russian officials are embracing Seagal: "It is easy to understand why Russia would identify Seagal as a key figure in American culture: because they are holding onto the era in which both he and they were bigger players on the world stage."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- Sorry, we will not all be having sex with robots in the future
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How to live a long life, according to science
Subscribe to the Week