On August 4, 2018, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Steven Seagal had been appointed as a special representative in charge of “Russian-US humanitarian ties.”
According to the Ministry, Seagal — who was awarded Russian citizenship in 2016 by Russian President Vladimir Putin — will be tasked with facilitating “relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field.” This will include “cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges” as well as “building a more positive atmosphere in bilateral affairs.”
“It is expected that in his new role, Steven Seagal will assist in the development and implementation of various projects for bilateral cooperation in the field of culture, arts, science, education, sports, public and youth exchanges, as well as participate in respective events in Russia and abroad, and maintain contacts with partners in the United States,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stated on its official Facebook page. “Moreover, the special representative will be involved in the preservation of memorial sites in the US that are somehow connected with Russia, research into and the promotion of the Russian America legacy and other chapters of our common history that are of great interest for both nations.”
Seagal’s newfound role as a special representative is an unpaid, voluntary position, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The sole purpose of the appointment is for Seagal to strengthen “mutual understanding and trust” between the two nations.
”It is the case when people’s diplomacy meets halfway traditional diplomacy,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added.
Seagal took to twitter to share his thoughts on the appointment:
“I am deeply humbled and honoured to have been appointed as a special representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry in charge of Russian and American Humanitarian ties,” Seagal said. “I hope we can strive for peace, harmony and positive results in the world. I take this honour very seriously”
Seagal’s sudden appointment as a political envoy to the Kremlin highlights the strange journey that the former high-grossing actor has undergone over the past few years. Once regarded as a successful American actor, Seagal has since become a useful ally to dictators in the post-Soviet space, including Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko. His friendly relationship with Putin has been well-documented, and has helped bolster the president’s image during an unpopular period in his presidency.
As a result of his interactions with these dictators and authoritarian leaders, Seagal has transformed himself from a washed up actor to a political puppet. This mutation serves as a cautionary tale for celebrities and athletes alike but also emphasizes the useful role they play in legitimizing dangerous regimes, diplomatic relations, and spreading propaganda.
Though Seagal and Putin first met during the Moscow Film Festival in 2003, the two were not regularly seen together until 2013, when the Russian president began to put his friendship with the actor to practical use.
Putin made use of Seagal during public appearances that propagated Kremlin interests. An example of this was when Putin and Seagal were photographed at the Sambo-70 school in 2013, a renowned Moscow martial arts academy that dates back generations. Seagal’s appearance brought the attention and media coverage needed for the president to promote the relaunch a nationwide physical training program originally introduced in the Soviet Union.
Yet again, Seagal appears to be involved in another choreographed event. When Putin was surrounded by swarms of children trying to pose with him, Seagal rushed into the crowd and pulled the president out, as though playing the role of Putin’s security detail.
Later that year, Putin decided to use Seagal to enhance diplomatic relations between the US and Russia. The Russian president 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.
Obama was “flabbergasted” by the proposal.
While Putin’s attempt to use 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.
Putin’s relationship with Seagal continues to be mutually beneficial. While Putin propagates his political agenda, Seagal has been able to maintain his reputation as a respectable and successful actor in the post-Soviet sphere. Despite his tarnished reputation in the United States, which include sexual harassment and rape allegations from several notable actresses that are now being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office (and which the actor denies committing ), Seagal has also been able to take on roles ranging from a celebrated guest of honor at fight shows to close confidants to ruthless tyrants.
Most recently, Seagal was invited to become the president and figurehead of Zhara Fight Show — a combat sports promotion founded by Emin Agalarov, the pop star who, according to the New York Times, had a leading role in arranging Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer believed to have “damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.”
In May 2018, Seagal took part in a media campaign to promote the inaugural Zhara Fight Show. Dressed in his black kimono with matching trousers, a yellow-tinted glasses and a characteristic goatee, the actor appeared at fighter workouts, the official weigh-in ceremony, and at photoshoots alongside Emin Agalarov.
Agalarov — known in Russia by the single name Emin — is a pop star and businessman who primarily performs in the Russian Federation. He is the son of Aras Agalarov, an oligarch who owns Crocus Group, a real estate company that owns a chain of entertainment complexes, restaurants, luxury shopping centres, and sea resorts.
While Emin is primarily a celebrity figure in Russia, he became infamous in the United States after it was revealed that he helped arrange a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The lawyer was reported to have damning information about the Clinton campaign.
Emin’s connection to Trump does not end there. Emin’s father, Aras Agalarov, has had past business interactions with Trump, the most notable of which was to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia in 2013. They also initiated plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, though that eventually fell through. Emin later included Trump’s Apprentice catchphrase “You’re fired” in a music video for his song “In Another Life.” The two have also interacted on social media.
While Trump’s interactions with Emin occurred before he was elected president, a recent interview with the pop star suggests the two may still have some form of relationship.
“Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends,” Emin told Forbes in March 2017.
It should be noted that Trump has no affiliation to the Zhara Fight Show project. However, the promotion is owned and operated by a pop star involved in the Russia scandal, and Seagal — newly appointed by the Kremlin as a special representative to the United States — happens to be the face of the promotion.
Given Seagal’s history with Putin and his prior experience with both the US and the Russian governments, it comes as little surprise that the Kremlin has once again enlisted the actor’s help with enhancing diplomatic ties between the two countries. While Seagal was reportedly ineffective with the Obama administration, he may enjoy more success with the Trump administration, particularly since he shares much of the president’s viewpoints and policies.
For example, Seagal — a self-proclaimed Republican — referred to protestors who chose to kneel during the national anthem at NFL games “disgusting.”
“I think it’s outrageous, I think it’s a joke, it’s disgusting. I myself have risked my life countless times for the American flag,” Seagal told Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain.
While Seagal is no longer a popular film star in the United States, is accused of sexual harassment by several actresses, and has associated with a handful of dictators in the post-Soviet space, none of this has hindered the Kremlin’s belief that he is the celebrity most capable of enhancing diplomatic and humanitarian relations between the United States and Russia.