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Russia

Putin's circle of celebrities enable his policies

It's no secret that Russia's President Vladimir Putin has surrounded himself with Hollywood celebrities. But their affinities for the Russian strongman have only helped to affirm his policies at home and abroad.

On the anniversary of Ukraine's Maidan protests on Monday, Russia's REN TV aired a documentary produced by American director Oliver Stone entitled "Ukraine on Fire."

Sprinkled with sound bites from Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the film depicts the latter strongman as the victim of an orchestrated coup with the aid of the American intelligence apparatus.

"He was the legitimate president of Ukraine until he suddenly wasn't on February 22 of this year," Stone said in the post. "Many witnesses, including Yanukovych and police officials, believe these foreign elements were introduced by pro-Western factions - with CIA fingerprints on it."

Failing to acknowledge a crackdown on press freedom and the opposition under Yanukovych's government as the catalyst for the protests, Stone instead opted for a tale of "well-armed, neo-Nazi radicals" forcing Yanukovych to flee from multiple assassination attempts.

But whether or not Stone's documentary aims to encourage the myth of a coup in Kyiv with Washington pulling the strings, it affirms Putin's narrative of the events; that foreign elements with the intention of undermining Russian interests orchestrated pro-European protests.

American actor and former boxer Mickey Rourke has described Putin as a very cool, regular guy

American actor and former boxer Mickey Rourke has described Putin as a "very cool, regular guy"

'Propaganda coup'

Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at the New York-based New School and critic of Putin, told DW that Stone, as a known Washington detractor, "had to serve Putin's hand" in order to "tear down the Western, US-EU version of great democratic revolution."

"Promoting Stone's view is an amazing propaganda coup: if Stone thinks Ukraine's Maidan movement is a sham, it must be a sham. He, after all, is a world-renown director, one of the 'owners of thoughts,' as Russians refer to intellectuals," the great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said.

"In Stone, I think we witness an old adage: 'An enemy of my enemy is my friend.' For Putin, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is yet another confirmation that he was right in Ukraine," she added.

However, Putin has found closer allies among Hollywood's celebrities, especially American actor Steven Seagal, who earlier this month received Russian citizenship via an executive order from the presidency.

In 2013, French actor Gerard Depardieu had been welcomed with a bear hug when he fled France over a proposed tax increase, receiving Russian citizenship and an apartment at Putin's behest.

Both actors have spoken highly of the Russian president and lashed out at his critics, with Seagal hailing him as "one of the greatest world leaders if not the greatest world leader alive today," in an interview with Russia's state-funded RT television channel in 2014.

"If Gerard Depardieu, a Frenchman no less, wants Russian citizenship, there is clearly something amazing about Putin, or so the thinking goes," said Krushcheva. "Steven Seagal is a strongman on screen, Putin is a strongman in real life, thus Seagal's support means Putin is doubly strong, or so the logic of these relations goes."

Watch video 42:34

Russia: Believing in Putin | DW Documentary

'Creators of social consciousness'

While Putin's entourage of celebrities may serve as a self-validating echo chamber, Khruscheva highlighted the role cultural figures held in Russian political life, representing the "conscious of the nation" and, at times, being the "creators of social consciousness" in the absence of free speech.

"For the young man in the USSR, being cultured in theater, music and film was a matter of belonging to a special class. In the West, we know these cultural figures as celebrities, but in Russia, they were the intellectuals," Khrushcheva told DW.

"In 2000 and 2004, during the elections, Russian intellectuals were recruited to speak for Putin as president. The idea was that if, say pop singer Alla Pugacheva or renowned poet Bella Akhmadulina support Putin, so must the country. In Russia, those intellectuals - or cultural celebrities - are seen to be always in the know," she said.

Between validation abroad and recognition at home, Putin's cohort of celebrities has enabled his politically ambitious and, at times, disruptive plans at the expense of international law and human rights, both domestically and beyond Russia's borders.

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