(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to Roy Jones Junior, a prominent U.S. professional boxer who had asked for it last month when he met Putin in the disputed region of Crimea, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
The move is the latest example of the Kremlin publicizing cases of prominent Westerners who praise Russia or offer symbolic support for Putin’s policies, at a time when Putin is at odds with Western governments over the Ukraine crisis.
A short presidential decree on the Kremlin website said Jones’ request had been granted under an article of the constitution giving the president power to solve questions of Russian citizenship.
Jones, a former Olympic silver medalist and winner of multiple world championship titles, met Putin in August in Crimea, the region that Russia annexed from Ukraine last year, where Jones appeared as a guest on a boxing television show.
In televised comments, the boxer had told Putin that a Russian passport would make it easier for him to travel to Russia and that he hoped he could “build a bridge” between Russia and the United States.
Jones is not the first Russophile Western celebrity to have been granted citizenship by Putin.
French actor Gerard Depardieu made headlines in 2013 when he became a Russian citizen in similar fashion. Depardieu has often praised Putin, including his policies in Crimea, as a result of which he has been banned from traveling to Ukraine.
Putin is in Crimea again to meet with his old friend Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, who has also often defended Putin’s policies.
In July, Italian newspaper La Stampa quoted Berlusconi as saying that Putin had offered him Russian citizenship and wanted to make him economy minister.
(Reporting By Jason Bush; Editing by Dominic Evans)