Actor Steven Seagal praised Russian President as 'one of the world's greatest leaders'.
Actor Steven Seagal praised Russian President as 'one of the world's greatest leaders'.Reuters

The Under Siege star praised the ex-Communist state for its leadership and said he felt like a Serb. Seagal visited the capital city Belgrade twice in December 2015 and met up with President Tomislav Nikolic as well as Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

The decision to grant Seagal Serbian citizenship was announced in the official state gazette. In the past, the actor said he was keen to do "everything possible to promote Serbia" worldwide. He also expressed a desire to establish an Aikido school in the capital city, according to a government statement.

Seagal is much admired in the old Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, and was asked to train Serbian special police forces in Aikido, a Japanese martial art that he is famed for in his blockbuster movies.

Seagal's visits to Serbia were sponsored by a pro-Russian Serb group and the Michigan-born actor considers himself a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 63-year-old movie star considers the former KGB lieutenant colonel "one of the greatest world leaders" and declared Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was "very reasonable," according to the Moscow Times.

Speaking to the state-run newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, Seagal described western policy on Ukraine as "idiotic".

In 2015, Serbian citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 110 countries and territories, ranking the Serbian passport 43rd in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index. A Serbian passport is one of the five passports with the most improved rating globally since 2006 in terms of number of countries that its holders may visit without a visa.

Seagal began his adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan and is a 7th-dan black belt in Aikido,. He later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a martial arts instructor on Bond movie Never Say Never Again and accidentally broke actor Sean Connery's wrist during production.

He is estimated to be worth up to $16 million and his company Steven Seagal Enterprises manufactures an energy drink, Lightning Bolt. In 2013, he began representing the Russian firearms manufacturer ORSIS, appearing in promotional campaigns.