Here's How Steven Seagal And Vladimir Putin Became Friends

Let's imagine a movie pitch meeting: "So this phoney-bologna action hero meets this actual retired spy, right? And they, like, bond — not like James, like, they become friends, right? And — hilarity! Right?" "Didn't Jackie Chan already do that?" "Do you think we could get Jackie Chan? For either part?" Or this: "A self-proclaimed master of a relatively obscure martial art and a former KGB operative walk into a bar." (It lacks pacing.)

Steven Seagal, before he turned into a national punchline, made a fair pile of money for the movie industry back in the '90s, and still makes movies that tend to include words like "Justice" and "Kill" in their titles. He's even done reality TV for A&E, on Steven Seagal: Lawman, which relayed his adventures as a reserve deputy in Louisiana, says Biography.

Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent who's served as president of Russia since 2012. (He'd held the job before, from 2000-2008, and in between he was Prime Minister — again, from Biography.) Besides the brouhaha over the Crimea, and Syria, and this and that and the other thing, there seems to be pretty conclusive evidence that Putin was "personally involved" in attempts to hack America's 2016 presidential election, reports USA Today. So how did Vladimir and Steven — the latter often playing uber-patriotic military or retired military figures — end up as, well, besties?

Putin gave Seagal a Russian passport in 2016

NPR gives credit (or blame, depending) to Bob Van Ronkel, and his company "Doors to Hollywood," with a very special business niche: bringing "American celebrities to Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union." There are powerful figures in Russian who try to enhance their image as major players by developing relationships with American celebrities. Seagal is one of those celebrities, and in 2017 told 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."

Van Ronkel lived in Moscow for 15 years, says the Washington Post. "I'm not a political guy, I'm a deal guy," he said. In one of those deals, Seagal met Putin at an after-party and connected, perhaps over a mutual interest in martial arts. Putin gave Steven a Russian passport in 2016. Seagal has declared that Putin is "one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today." Vanity Fair reports that in 2018 Seagal was named an unpaid "official representative" to "improve humanitarian relations between the two countries and deepen cultural ties," which is possibly the first time anyone has used "cultural" and "Seagal" in the same sentence. For Seagal, says Van Ronkel, "Russia is a place to re-brand himself." It's also a place where celebrities can watch Putin sing "Blueberry Hill." Maybe he just doesn't know any songs with "Justice" or "Kill" in the titles.