Why Depardieu’s Russian Passport is a Non-Story

Vladimir Putin has scored a real PR coup by offering French actor Gerard Depardieu a Russian passport and a 13% tax rate.  Practically every major Western media outlet has run a story on it, and who could blame them?

For Putin, the publicity stunt ticked all the right boxes:  1) poke Hollande (and Europe in general) in the eye, 2) bring some star power into Russia to lend some much needed credibility, 3) drive home his message demanding that wealthy Russians come back home, and 4) advertise Russia as an arctic tax haven.  Having already cemented cozy relations with Depardieu – he once appeared at Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday party, shouting from the stage “Glory to Grozny! Glory to Chechnya! Glory to Kadyrov!” – Putin pounced with impeccable timing to intervene in Depardieu’s public tax spat with the French government.

Too bad it’s not a real story.  Probably a number of UK journalists are aware of this, but can’t resist from the beloved France bashing.

There’s a reason why Depardieu has stay quiet about Putin’s citizenship offer – and you can bet he’s not packing his bags.  First of all, the alleged 75% tax rate is simply not true.  The ill-considered proposal was swiftly cancelled by the Constitutional Court, and besides, it would only have affected some 1,500 of the country’s richest individuals – hardly a social injustice.  Secondly, Depardieu already lives in a tax haven in Belgium, where tax rates are actually not that different from France, at least in terms of salary income.  Lastly, in order to get that sweet 13% deal, Depardieu would have to spend 182 days per year in residence, otherwise the rate would jump back up to 30%.  Depardieu is not moving to Russia, is not becoming a Russian citizen, period.

It was a fun story, we all had a nice laugh – but seriously, the media has got to exercise some self-control.

If anything, the publicity hoax has actually revealed a much sadder conclusion – that hardly any well known international figure wants to willingly move to Russia.  It’s a great pity to me, as I have always found Russia one of the most interesting, exciting, stimulating, beautiful, and un-boring places on earth – but nobody’s too excited to go live somewhere without any real rights.