The transcript below is from the video “Here’s How Steven Seagal And Vladimir Putin Became Friends” by Grunge.
In 2018, the Kremlin appointed Steven Seagal as a goodwill ambassador to improve cultural ties between Russia and the U.S. That’s weird enough on its own, but how did we get here? Odd as the two may seem together, it’s not the first time a nation’s figurehead has teamed up with a pop culture icon.
One other example is former NBA player Dennis Rodman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s, who have appeared in the past to have an unexpected friendship. Another example is the relationship between Steven Seagal and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While his box office stock has fallen off significantly in recent years, Steven Seagal made a fair pile of money for the movie industry back in the ’90s, and still makes movies to this day.
“You’re still a loser.”
“I remember you!”
He’s even done reality TV for A&E, on Steven Seagal: Lawman, which relayed his adventures as a reserve deputy in Louisiana. His action hero status is based at least in part on his expertise in the martial art of aikido.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent who has professed an affinity for judo. But even having a shared interest in martial arts, the question remains – just how did Vladimir Putin and Steven Seagal end up as seemingly close friends?
NPR gives credit to Bob Van Ronkel and his company “Doors to Hollywood.” Van Ronkel’s company has a very special business niche of bringing Hollywood celebrities to Russia.
There are powerful figures in Russia who try to enhance their image as major players by developing relationships with American celebrities.
According to his website, Van Ronkel was responsible for bringing Richard Gere to Russia in 2018 so the actor could speak at a global forum.
Van Ronkel also brought Arnold Schwarzenegger for another global forum held in Saint Petersburg. The list of guests he has taken to Russia is extensive and wildly diverse.
It includes celebrities ranging from Paul Anka to Jim Carrey, and Katy Perry to John Malkovich.
Van Ronkel lived in Moscow for 15 years, says The Washington Post, but he currently resides in the United States while he still works to offer his own brand of United States-Russian diplomacy.
As far as his motives are concerned, Van Ronkel lays it out clearly, telling The Washington Post:
“I’m not a political guy, I’m a deal guy.”
In Russia, Seagal reportedly met Putin at an after-party and the two became fast friends. Putin even gave Steven a Russian passport in 2016.
In speaking about his admiration for Putin, Seagal has said:
“[Vladimir Putin is] one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today.”
According to NPR in 2017, Seagal stood up for Putin amid claims that the Russian government had meddled in the 2016 United States presidential election, telling British TV, “For anyone to think that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with fixing the election, or even that the Russians have that kind of technology, is stupid.” “I think that this whole thing with Russian collusion and the president of the United States being involved in Russian collusion, I think it’s all a fantasy.”
In 2018, Russia named Seagal an unpaid “official representative” so that he could deepen cultural ties between the two nations, while assisting in improving humanitarian relations between Russia and the United States.
Van Ronkel has said,
“[For Steven Seagal,] Russia is a place to re-brand himself.”
Steve Hall, the C.I.A.’s former head of Russian operations, said these relationships not only benefit a celebrity’s branding, but also Russia’s.
Hall told NPR:
“It looks very good for Russia because it shows that they are not alone in the world. They haven’t been isolated, they indeed have these cultural connections. And they use it to basically increase their validity to the West. And it’s a very clever move that they’ve done for a long time.”
However, business has died down for Van Ronkel in recent years, due to economic sanctions, oil prices, and the value of the Russian ruble.
Van Ronkel admitted to NPR:
“Russians that would give me a million dollars to bring Mariah Carey, KISS and a lot of others like that — they didn’t have the money. It would cost them twice as much in rubles.”
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