By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin has awarded Russian citizenship to U.S. mixed martial arts fighter Jeff Monson, a presidential decree published on Tuesday showed, a move the Kremlin said was motivated by Monson’s sporting fame.
Monson, 47, a tattooed cage fighter known as The Snowman, has cultivated ties to the Russian Communist Party. He has also said he feels “Russian in spirit” and has rubbed shoulders with senior Russian politicians.
Monson is the latest in a series of Western celebrities to be granted Russian passports, following in the footsteps of the likes of French actor Gerard Depardieu, U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr, and Hollywood action man Steven Seagal.
“He’s a fairly famous person in the sporting world and is famous in his discipline across the world,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday when asked why Putin had agreed to grant Monson Russian citizenship.
Peskov said Monson had applied for citizenship in the normal way and had met all the requirements of the process.
He said he had yet to swear an oath of allegiance to Russia however, the final step to become a bona fide citizen.
Monson, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, said in January 2016 he was applying for Russian citizenship because he had felt a solidarity with the Russian people since he first visited their country in 2011.
“… When people ask me why I sought Russian citizenship, it’s hard to give a concise answer,” he wrote in Newsweek. “I guess it’s because I just feel Russian.”
Monson has previously obtained honorary citizenship from two Moscow-backed breakaway statelets.
There was no immediate word on Tuesday of whether there would be a public ceremony during which Putin would formally hand Monson his new passport.
Putin, a keen judo practitioner, has sometimes watched mixed martial arts fights.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)