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Russia names Steven Seagal as special envoy for bilateral ties

Action movie star says he has always wanted to help improve US-Russian ties and welcomes the opportunity

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Seagal's grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, according to a biography on IMDB. He counts President Vladimir Putin as a personal friend. The Russian leader personally presented him a Russian passport in 2016.

New York

AMERICAN action-movie star Steven Seagal has played a former CIA agent, a hit man and a killer of criminals during his career.

Last Saturday, Russian officials tapped him for another role: special representative to improve relations between the US and Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced the appointment on Facebook, saying his mission will include promoting "relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field, including cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges".

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The position is unpaid, said Russian officials, who compared the role to that of a United Nations goodwill ambassador - a distinguished volunteer who calls attention to the work of the UN.

Relations between the two countries have been fraught as US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 elections and have warned it could do so again in the November mid-term contests.

The countries have also been at odds over the Syrian civil war and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Seagal, who occasionally appears on Russian state television, said he welcomed the appointment, Reuters reported.

"I've always had a very strong desire to do all I can to help improve Russian-American relations," he told the Kremlin-backed television station RT.

"I have worked tirelessly in this direction for many years unofficially, and I am now very grateful for the opportunity to do the same thing officially."

The 66-year-old could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

His films, which often highlight his martial arts skills, are popular in Europe.

In his first big role in the 1988 movie Above the Law, he played a former CIA agent, and in one of his latest films, Mercenary: Absolution, he played a contract killer.

In 2014, Seagal posted a statement on his website to clarify that he had been misquoted by media outlets saying he called Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, the world's greatest leader.

He said he had called Putin "one of the world's great leaders"; he described the Russian president as a personal friend and expressed a desire to improve relations between the US and Russia.

Seagal's grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, according to a biography on IMDB.

In November 2016, the Kremlin announced that Seagal had received Russian citizenship.

Later that month, Mr Putin, who has been described as a fan of the martial arts that Seagal practices in his movies, personally presented the actor with a Russian passport.

A Kremlin spokesman cited Seagal's "warm feelings toward Russia" and his celebrity status as reasons for the gesture, Reuters reported.

In a video of the event, Mr Putin and Seagal shake hands. Seagal said: "I'll never, ever falter. Never." NYTimes