Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to honor Steven Seagal with the Order of Friendship.

The award, which was established by former President Boris Yeltsin, was presented to the 70-year-old former action star for his “great contribution to the development of international cultural and humanitarian cooperation.”

Putin’s decision to bestow Steven Seagal with the state honor marked the latest development in their bizarre 20-year friendship. It also served to symbolically recompense Seagal for more than a decade of service as a leading propagandist for the Kremlin.

Putin and Seagal first met in 2003, when the actor was a guest at the Moscow Film Festival. During the multi-day event, Seagal seemingly expressed his deep respect and admiration for the president, which helped spark their ongoing friendship. Naturally, the two men—both allegedly blackbelts in Japanese martial arts—bonded particularly well through a shared interest in combat sports.

Over the years, Seagal continued to return to Russia to meet with Putin, who seemed keen to associate with the retired martial artist as part of his cult of personality—a macho persona fashioned from television stunts, topless photoshoots, and choreographed public adulation—he propagated throughout Russia.

Steven Seagal has made numerous appearances at events in Russia in recent years

On one occasion in 2013, Putin orchestrated a photo-op alongside Steven Seagal at a renowned martial arts academy in Moscow. Seagal shadowed Putin throughout the event as though he were a member of the president’s security detail. Since then, the American martial artist and D-list actor has served as an unofficial spokesperson of sorts for Putin, defending Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and referring to him as “one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader alive.”

The longstanding friendship between Putin and Seagal quickly became mutually beneficial. Seagal’s faltering stardom was revitalized in Russia while Putin gained a political ally to salvage his image in the West.

The Russian president put this theory to test when he proposed to the Obama administration that Seagal be appointed as Russia’s “honorary consul” in several U.S. states. The proposal would have positioned Seagal as an official envoy and mediator between Washington and the Kremlin when all other avenues had deteriorated—a proposition that reportedly left Obama “flabbergasted”.

While Putin’s attempt to use Steven Seagal to mediate ties between the US and Russia failed during Obama’s tenure in office, Seagal remained involved in back-channel discussions between the US and Russia. In 2013, Seagal accompanied an American congressional delegation to Russia following the Boston Marathon bombings. According to one of the congressmen present on the trip, Seagal “opened up some doors” for the group while in Russia.

Seagal would go on to become a full-fledged Kremlin propagandist over the coming year. He publicly defended Putin’s annexation of Crimea, referring to his policies as “very reasonable.” He also played at a concert for pro-Russian separatists in the Crimean peninsula following its annexation.

As a result of his loyalty to Putin, Seagal was rewarded with Russian citizenship in November 2016.

Two years later, the Kremlin announced that Seagal had been appointed as a special representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The intention was to use Seagal as an envoy to boost US-Russia relations during the Trump administration, though it did not reap any notable results.

In 2020, Seagal recorded a birthday message for Putin, saying “he is one of the greatest world leaders and one the greatest presidents in the world. And I am really hoping and praying that he gets the support and the love and the respect that he needs. And that all the tribulations that are going on now will be over soon, and we will be living in a world of peace.”

Seagal couldn’t have been more wrong.

Read the rest of this post on the Bloody Elbow Substack.

About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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