Is This Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Is So Popular In Russia?

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a complicated history with Russia. From having grown up in Austria when parts of it were under Soviet occupation following World War II to having visited in different capacities as an adult, Schwarzenegger has seen Russia from more perspectives than most, and he's seen immense popularity in the U.S.S.R even going back to the Soviet era (via Russia Beyond).

Following Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine in early 2022, the former governor of California released a video appealing to Russian citizens in which he told them that their leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin, had lied to them about the reasons for the conflict and that Russian soldiers' lives had been sacrificed for Putin's ambitions (via The National Desk).

"This is an illegal war," Schwarzenegger said in his nine-minute video message. "Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world."

Schwarzenegger hoped that this message would appeal to those in Russia, a place where he has been immensely popular over the years. He wrote on Twitter along with the posted video message, "I love the Russian people. That is why I have to tell you the truth. Please watch and share."

Schwarzenegger's early history with Russia

According to Russia Beyond, Schwarzenegger visited Moscow in 1988 to shoot his film "Red Heat" in which he played a Soviet police officer. The trip went well and he developed a great appreciation for the country and its people, but beforehand he had justifiable reservations about his visit. Schwarzenegger hails from Austria, and as a kid, his home country was partially controlled by the Soviet Union occupation in the aftermath of World War II, a war his father had fought in as a member of German forces.

"My father fought in the ranks of the German army against Russia. He got wounded in Stalingrad," Schwarzenegger said (via Russia Beyond). "When I was five, and we were moving to Vienna, we had to go through a Russian border-crossing checkpoint, because part of Austria was occupied by the Russians. It was very scary. There had always been a frightening image in your head, and you were afraid that they would throw you out of the car and send you to Russia."

His time shooting "Red Heat," showed him a different side of the country. Schwarzenegger found good things to say about Russia, likely endearing him to its people. "It was the middle of winter. It was snowing and very beautiful," he said. "People on the set were very hardworking. It opened Russia up for me in a new light."

Schwarzenegger's continued visits to Russia

In the mid-1990s, with the Soviet Union a thing of the past, and Russia opening itself up as a potentially untapped market, Schwarzenegger visited the country again, only this time he was there in an entrepreneurial capacity. According to Russia Beyond, Schwarzenegger learned about his massive popularity in Russia when he was there in the late 1980s. "When I was there I was amazed when I saw so many kids turn out in front of the hotel where I stayed or Red Square, where we were shooting," Schwarzenegger said. 

Interestingly, he drew the crowd even though his movies rarely appeared in Soviet theaters. "One Soviet official who was with us all the time explained that my videotapes are the hottest videotapes on the black market in Moscow and all over the Soviet Union," he said. 

Schwarzenegger was also once in Russia to open a Moscow location for his very 1990s business venture, the iconic movie-themed restaurant chain, Planet Hollywood. On that trip, he even had the city's then-mayor, Yury Luzhkov serving as his guide. Schwarzenegger said, "At 2:00 a.m. we crossed the entire city. He showed me different churches and sightseeing attractions. It was unforgettable," (via Russia Beyond).

Schwarzenegger befriended Russian politicians

Arnold Schwarzenegger's fans in Russia aren't limited to civilians. Some of Russia's most well-known and powerful politicians are known to admire the bodybuilder turned actor turned politician. For instance, current Russian President Vladimir Putin only follows 22 other accounts on Twitter, and one of them is Schwarzenegger's.

In 2010, Schwarzenegger made another trip to Russia, only this time he brought company. Schwarzenegger was still the governor of California at the time, and he led a group of Silicon Valley business leaders and venture capitalists on the trip (via The National Desk).

That same year, long-time Moscow mayor and former-Schwarzenegger tour guide, Yury Luzhkov had been fired by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which left a vacancy at the mayor's office. Considering Schwarzenegger's time as governor was winding down — he left office the next year, per the National Governor's Association — Medvedev had a proposition, even if he was joking just a little bit. According to The Guardian, the Russian President had told Schwarzenegger, "If you were a Russian citizen you could come and work for us."

Medvedev also drove Schwarzenegger around in a Chaika during his visit, per Russia Beyond. A Chaika limousine that was used by officials during the Soviet era. Schwarzenegger later tweeted about the experience, saying, "Riding with President Medvedev in his great car. You're a great driver, Mr. President!"

Schwarzenneger tries to use his popularity in Russia to get a message to citizens

Due to his affection for Russia and its people, as the war in Ukraine unfolded Arnold Schwarzenegger shared personal and family experiences to try to connect to Russia's citizens. In his March 17, 2022 video message Schwarzenegger talked about how the Russian government was lying to its people and that his father had once experienced something similar (via MSNBC). He posted his video to Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter — all of which are restricted in Russia, according to The National Desk. He also posted on the messaging app Telegram, which is available in the country and garnered more than half a million views. 

Schwarzenegger said, "When my father arrived in Leningrad, he was all pumped up on the lies of his government. And when he left Leningrad, he was broken physically and mentally. He lived the rest of his life in pain: pain from a broken back, pain from the shrapnel that always reminded him of those terrible years, and pain from the guilt that he felt."

Schwarzenegger continued, "To the Russian soldiers listening to this broadcast, you already know much of the truth that I have been speaking. You have seen it with your own eyes. I don't want you to be broken like my father."