Ukraine Tells Depardieu to Get Lost

After cavorting with Putin in Moscow, Kadyrov in Chechnya, and Lukashenko in Minsk, Gérard Depardieu has finally pushed Ukraine's patience to the limit.

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Earlier today, the Ukrainian authorities banned French film star Gérard Depardieu from entering the country for five years. A government spokeswoman confirmed that he’s been placed on an official blacklist of public figures deemed hostile to Ukrainian sovereignty.

The decision didn’t come as a complete surprise. Depardieu has been drawing attention with his pro-Russian antics for some time. Last year, during an appearance at an event in Latvia, he declared, “I love Russia and Ukraine, which is part of Russia.” And then, of course, there’s his much-publicized friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which probably didn’t help. A few weeks ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, he assured reporters of his continuing fondness for Putin (“I like him a lot”) and cryptically downplayed the Russian annexation of Crimea (“if Crimea had been American it would have been a different matter”).

The ban is the latest twist in a bizarre saga that began two years ago, when Depardieu proclaimed his plan to establish tax residency in the Belgian border town of Néchin as a protest against a proposed French wealth tax on high earners. Vladimir Putin, who had already hosted the French film star on his multiple visits to Moscow, seized upon the opening to offer Depardieu citizenship in Russia (which, it should be noted, boasts a flat tax rate of 13 percent).

Depardieu thereupon embarked on a madcap odyssey across the former Soviet Union. In Moscow he rubbed elbows with Putin and assorted Kremlin court celebrities, and even starred in a Russian sitcom. He attended a well-lubricated birthday party for brutal Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. He recorded a soppy duet with Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator (who has since, in effect, been declared persona non grata by her own father). He also made a trip to Baku, where he hobnobbed with local leaders and appeared in a commercial for Azeri cuisine.

Earlier this month, in what may have been the oddest encounter yet, he turned up in Minsk, where he embarked on a grass-scything photo op (see above) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Sunday, Depardieu gave an interview in which he generously gave his stamp of approval to Minsk’s role as the scene of negotiations to end the war in eastern Ukraine. (This was also a rather odd move, considering that the widely criticized Minsk II agreement, signed by Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, was concluded there five months ago.) Just for good measure, Depardieu also seized the opportunity to hail a recent Belarusian law aimed at penalizing the unemployed. He referred to Lukashenko’s reinstatement of the gruesome Soviet era “tax for a parasitic lifestyle” a “sign of democratic society.”

Paradoxical as this may now seem, given his current penchant for the company of dictators, Depardieu had once embraced democratic Ukraine: He toured the Carpathians and took part in a failed scheme to open a restaurant in Kiev. Long before Kadyrov proffered him the gift of a free apartment in Chechnya, Depardieu even spent a pair of vacations with ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at his country house. (A spokesman for Yushchenko declined to comment when contacted for this piece.) The French star once floated a plan to make a movie, set in medieval times, celebrating a Ukrainian nationalist hero. Now he’s talking instead of a joint Franco-Russian film project set in World War II, featuring French fighter pilots who fought with the Soviets against Nazi Germany.

Those days now seem long gone. The Kiev government’s latest move appears to mark the final break in Depardieu’s long romance with Ukraine. It’s sad to think that the French star once courted democratic Ukraine as fervently as he now woos autocrats. But then, consistency was never his strong suit.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via Reuters

Vladislav Davidzon is a writer, journalist and artist who has reported extensively from Ukraine. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review.

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