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Gérard Depardieu Becomes Russian Citizen, Welcomed By Vladimer Putin (PICTURES)

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First he starred as the eccentric Russian monk and mystic Rasputin, and now Gérard Depardieu has gone one step further to become an official citizen of Russia, welcomed by President Vladimir Putin as the French actor looks to avoid the new tax for millionaires in his home country.

The unlikely friends met in the Black Sea town of Sochi, where Putin handed Depardieu his new Russian passport, the Kremlin has confirmed. On Thursday, Putin officially signed a decree conferring citizenship on the French star, who has left many fans furious.

French president François Hollande plans to impose a 75% tax rate on the super-rich in France. French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called Depardieu's decision to seek residency elsewhere, including buying a home in Belgium, "shabby, unpatriotic, pathetic".

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French actor Gerard Depardieu, left, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia has a modest flat income tax of 13%.

Putin did not hand the passport over personally, the BBC reported, but the two embraced and shook hands.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "A brief meeting between the president and Depardieu took place. On the occasion of his visit to Russia, he was handed a Russian passport."

A film of the two meeting has been shown on Russia's Channel One.

According to AP, Depardieu flew on Sunday to Saransk, a town about 300 miles east of Moscow, where he was met at a snow-covered airport by the governor and a group of women in traditional costume singing folk songs. He flashed his new passport to the crowd before setting out on a tour of the town.

AP reported that the governor apparently invited Depardieu to settle in Saransk and offered him an apartment of his choice.

Depardieu has never confirmed that he plans to take up residence in Russia, but has previously said he does not want to live in Moscow because it is too big and he prefers a village.

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French actor Gerard Depardieu, center, poses on a theatre stage, wearing a traditional folk outfit, after he arrived in Saransk

The Cyrano de Bergerac star has featured in many advertising campaigns in Russia and has often spoken of his admiration for Russia : "I love your country, Russia - its people, its history, its writers. I love your culture, your intelligence."

"It is a great democracy, and not a country where the prime minister calls one of its citizens shabby".

Depardieu has starred in many Russian advertising campaigns, including one for ketchup and one for Sovietsky Bank's credit card. He played Grigory Rasputin, a joint Franco-Russian production, in 2011.

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Gerard Depardieu in Russia
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