MOSCOW Jan 13 French actor Gerard Depardieu,
recently awarded Russian citizenship by President Vladimir
Putin, has praised the former KGB spy and said his political
opponents offer no real alternative.
Depardieu, who has been accused in France of abandoning his
homeland to avoid a proposed 75 percent tax for millionaires,
told the state-run Rossiya-24 television that Putin personified
Russia's complex and fascinating national character.
"I like this man very much, he is a very powerful political
activist. He has political wisdom," the 63-year-old star of
"Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Green Card" said in comments aired
late on Sunday, according to the channel's Russian translation.
The translation was dubbed over the original French, which
Rossiya-24 said would not immediately be made available.
Depardieu, who is also due in court to answer charges of
crashing his scooter in Paris with more than three times the
legal alcohol limit in his blood, said Putin had admitted to
liking his "hooligan essence" when the two met in the Russian
resort of Sochi last week.
Putin's opponents accuse him of cracking down on dissent
since his return to the presidency for a six-year third term
last May. The European Union and the United States have also
expressed concern that Moscow is rolling back democratic
"The Russian opposition has no programme, nothing. There are
very smart people there, like (former world chess champion
Garry) Kasparov, but what works well for chess is completely
unsuited to politics," Depardieu said.
Opposition activists were quick to react. Violetta Volkova,
defence lawyer for several opposition members facing charges
over anti-Putin protests, wrote sarcastically on Twitter:
"Prominent political analyst Depardieu..."
Putin's critics have failed to make inroads into his grip on
power in over a year of protests sparked by accusations of
widespread fraud in parliamentary elections in December 2011,
and the presidential vote last March.
The protest movement has gradually lost steam, though tens
of thousands of people marched through Moscow on Sunday to
protest against a Kremlin-backed law that bans Americans from
adopting Russian children.
After the protest, leftist opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov
was quoted as inviting Depardieu to take part in the next
anti-Putin rallies, given his interest in Russian politics.
Putin says he has developed a friendly personal relationship
with Depardieu, a popular figure in Russia, where he has
appeared in many advertising campaigns, including for ketchup.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Kevin Liffey)