Celebs Who Have Been Friendly With Putin

It took only hours for Russian President Vladimir Putin to become vilified worldwide when he launched a surprise invasion of the Ukraine in February 2022. As of this writing, his motives remain unclear, whether they be in response to NATO's steady encroachment of Russia, a "desire to return his country to the glory days of Soviet Union superpower," per the Los Angeles Times, or if he's simply a "ruthless megalomaniac with a giant imperialist agenda," as an international affairs professor told The New Yorker.

Whatever the cause, suffice to say that this unprovoked attack is but one entry in Putin's lengthy list of heavily criticized despotic directives, albeit a big one. Since taking Russia's top office in 2000, his iron grip on the country has become tighter as he imposed restrictions on the media, arrested protesters defying his power, and even jailed his political critics, including opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who was nearly assassinated during his exile in Germany. It's little wonder that the tally of Putin's enemies is huge, not only within Russian borders but around the globe.

Which makes it all the more perplexing to discover he has no shortage of friends in high places, including a few famous folks that at times have dominated pop culture water-cooler chatter. Donald Trump's continued praise of Putin is legion, while former action hero Steven Seagal's association with the Russian leader swelled into an unlikely bromance. But several other celebrities have surprisingly had the occasion to bask in Vladimir Putin's authoritarian glow, with some even gushing to the press about that experience.

Pamela Anderson

Pamela Anderson's love life has been linked to bad-boy rockers like Brett Michaels, Tommy Lee, and Kid Rock. But what if the "Baywatch" alum jumped into the deep end with a true-blue baddie like Vladimir Putin? According to the star, such an encounter might have happened.

Her involvement with Putin started in 2018, when she sent him a message to stop importing seal products from Canada. At the time, Russia comprised 95 percent of global demand for such items, which if blocked, would end seal hunts in Canada. "He made it actually illegal to import seal products into the country," she said to Piers Morgan. The exchange didn't end there. Anderson recalled Putin asking her to attend his presidential inauguration with flowers, a request she didn't honor. Still, she hinted that they were at the same location a few times, but didn't let on about what happened. Morgan pressed further, citing supposed dalliances with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Putin, and a French soccer player. "It's all there, isn't it?" he asked. Coyly, Anderson responded, "One man can't do it all."

A year later, through her foundation, Anderson congratulated Putin for preventing orca and beluga whales off the Pacific shore of Nakhoda, Russia from being sold on the global market. "By releasing these animals back into the wild, Russia can further demonstrate its leadership, which will be welcomed around the world," she wrote.

Leonardo DiCaprio

One scene from the film epic "Titanic" had Leonardo DiCaprio shouting that he was the king of the world. Who knew that years later, he'd meet Vladimir Putin, someone perhaps better equipped to realize similar aspirations?

The encounter took place in St. Petersburg at a conference addressing the plight of Siberian tigers, currently listed as an endangered species by the World Wildlife Foundation. DiCaprio attended the event to represent one of his foundations created to protect such species and ran into Putin, who apparently had the same concerns. "Putin and I talked only about the protection of these magnificent animals, not politics," stressed the actor to German publication Welt am Sonntag (via The Guardian). Still, he found the politician to be a "very interesting" individual, and said, "I would love to play him."

Oddly enough, Putin also praised DiCaprio for his manliness, when the actor revealed his plane endured two incidents on the way to Russia. "A person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming," mused Putin. Later, DiCaprio revealed one of the incidents to Ellen DeGeneres. "I was on a plane to Russia, and the engine exploded," he said. "I was looking out the window, and the entire engine just turned into a fireball." As far as portraying the politician, DiCaprio demonstrated to DeGeneres that at least he had the accent down pat, even capturing the Slavic linguistic nuances when he uttered, "That is not good."

Conor McGregor

As a mixed martial arts champion, Conor McGregor comes across as someone who probably likes folks with a lot of power, which might explain why he appeared so gobsmacked at meeting Vladimir Putin at a 2018 World Cup match in Moscow. "Today I was invited to the World Cup final as a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin," he posted on Instagram about the experience. "This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time and I was honored to attend such a landmark event alongside him."

McGregor also praised Putin's security team for their diligence, especially when the UFC celebrity presented the controversial politician with a swig of whisky, which the handlers inspected first. "President Putin's security detail is second to none as I'm sure you know, you don't mess around with Vladimir," he said later at a media conference covered by Belfast Live.

But any plans the fighter had in taking the buddy-buddy encounter to another level were scuttled when he put his arm around Putin for a photo-op. The Daily Star reported that security quickly stepped in to prevent McGregor from getting too close to the Russian leader. Subsequent photos had the champ posing with his arms folded in front of him.

Nikita Mikhalkov

Unless you're a connoisseur of foreign films, chances are you might never have heard of Nikita Mikhalkov. He's well known to the brass of the Academy Awards, which bestowed him a best foreign film Oscar for "Burnt by the Sun" in 1995, and nominated him for "Close to Eden" two years earlier. But in his native Russia, audiences are very familiar with him and seem to love his work. That includes President Vladimir Putin, who in 2015 decorated the director with the Order for Merit to the Fatherland, Russia's highest civilian honor. 

To Mikhalkov, Putin is more than a fan, but a close friend, as well. According to The New York Times, Mikhalkov messaged Putin in 2007, convincing him to run for an unprecedented third presidential term, even though Russia's constitution forbids such an action. He also told Russian news agency Interfax that had Putin not taken office in 2000, Russia would likely have lost its sovereignty to Western powers, per The San Diego Union-Tribune.

But his rock-solid support of Putin has ruffled feathers outside Russia. France 24 reported that filmmakers attending the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 targeted Mikhalkov for his alleged autocratic style of running the Russian Filmmakers' Union and for supposedly snaring much of the film industry's funding granted by the Putin government. In 2015, Ukraine banned him after he publicly supported Putin's annexation of the country's Crimean Peninsula. 

Jack Nicholson

Before taking top positions in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin made a career out of shooting through the ranks of the KGB, until he wound up running the secret police organization. So it seems hard to fathom Putin working for anyone else, including three-time Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson.

Irish news site Independent.ie chronicled a chance meeting between the two in 2001 at the Moscow International Film Festival. Putin, at a festival party function, apparently approached Nicholson, saying he was a fan of his work. "I most like 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'" Putin reportedly added. According to The Guardian, Nicholson supposedly replied that he had always wanted to visit Russia. He finally realized that opportunity when "The Pledge," his latest film at the time, was slated to screen at the festival. That's when Nicholson reportedly offered a co-producer gig to the Russian leader. Whether he made the offer in jest will not likely ever be known. Obviously, it went nowhere.

Putin also ran into Sean Penn, who also starred in "The Pledge," at the event. While there's no account on how that chat went, suffice to say that Penn is hardly a buddy. Variety reported in February 2022 that Penn was in Ukraine shooting a documentary about Russia's invasion. "Already a brutal mistake of lives taken and hearts broken, and if he doesn't relent, I believe Mr. Putin will have made a most horrible mistake for all of humankind," said Penn in a statement.

Alex Ovechkin

Hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin is hailed as a hero in his native Russia. Ditto in Washington, D.C., where he plays for the NHL's Capitals franchise. But in light of more recent events in Ukraine, many fans may believe the player deserves a lengthy stay in the penalty box. 

The controversy surrounding Ovechkin has to do with his support for Vladimir Putin, including a 2017 Instagram posting of a Team Putin initiative he created to back the president's re-election. The entry includes a shot of a bearded Ovechkin with Putin along with text translated by USA Today to read: "Being part of this team makes me proud and it's similar to the feeling you get when you put on a Russian national team jersey, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you." According to BarDown, the Russian president also sent the hockey hero and his wife a tea set that same year as a wedding gift and a note wishing them both success.

At a media conference that took place a couple of days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ovechkin appeared to downplay his support. "Well, he's my president. But, how I said, I'm not in politics. I'm an athlete," he said at the scrum, as covered by CNN. While he technically didn't speak out against Putin, the hockey star did note, "I have lots of friends in Russia and Ukraine. And, it's hard to see another war. I hope it's soon going to be over and there's going to be peace in the whole world."

Mickey Rourke

Like the title character he played in "The Wrestler," which resulted in a Golden Globe win, Mickey Rourke has endured an endless series of body slams and tap-outs on the canvas that's been his career. "It was too much hard work to get it back and too lonely and too dark," Rourke told CNN about a previous fall from grace. "I've worked too hard for it. It would be too hard to take."

So it likely goes without saying that Rourke appreciates every chance to be seen at a red-carpet function. The same probably goes for a bit of chin-wagging with really important people like Vladimir Putin. "I had a good feeling about him and I liked him," said Rourke at a Moscow media conference in 2014. "We got along very well, and he seemed like a really OK guy to me."

Rourke, who took up boxing in the '90s during a lull in his acting career, was in the Russian capital to compete in an exhibition match, where he defeated fellow American Elliot Seymour. While in the city, Rourke showed off his fondness for Putin when he purchased a t-shirt bearing the Russian president's image. "If I didn't like him, I wouldn't buy the T-shirt, believe me," he said to Sky News (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Steven Seagal

Since the beginning of the century, relations between Russia and the U.S. have been so strained, even the most unflappable warriors on either side have probably been downing stomach medication by the truckload. Despite the ongoing tension, Vladimir Putin still has a healthy relationship with former action hero Steven Seagal. 

The two have been pals since 2012, according to BuzzFeed News, when they first met for lunch in Novo-Ogarevo, Russia. And before they knew it, they were bonding like two bros in a pod. The relationship prompted Putin to suggest appointing Seagal (whose grandmother was Russian) as "an honorary consul to Russia" with hopes of bridging diplomatic gaps with the U.S. 

What this post did for relations remains a mystery, but Seagal certainly benefited from it. By 2016, Putin personally gave Seagal his own Russian passport and started working on getting citizenship for the star as what the president called "a sign of gradual normalization of the relations between our countries" (via The Guardian). By 2021, Seagal, now a Russian citizen, was accepted into a pro-Kremlin party, where he revealed his environmental mandate to clean up polluting businesses. "Without being able to arrest people, when we just fine them, they are probably making more money of the production of the things that are defiling the environment," said Seagal at the event, as covered by Reuters.

But any chance to bridge U.S. ties seemed to disappear when Seagal supported Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, calling both warring nations "one family" in an interview with Fox News Digital.

Oliver Stone

For years, producer and director Oliver Stone has often tried to deliver thought-provoking drama aimed at the American establishment's moral superiority with several controversial outings. Sometimes they were gritty ("Platoon"), conspiratorial ("JFK"), or even sensationalistic ("Natural Born Killers"), but in almost every Stone release, you'll find something designed to skewer Uncle Sam where the sun don't shine. 

Some critics only wished Stone would have done the same thing to Vladimir Putin in the Showtime four-part documentary "The Putin Interviews" when it debuted in 2017. The Daily Beast called it "nothing short of hero worship," while The Hollywood Reporter dismissed the usually fiery Stone as "demure and coquettish." But Stone wasn't apologetic over his apparent kid-gloves treatment of Putin and his abilities as a leader. "The Russian people have never been better off," he said to The Guardian. "But of course in America, they're [the Russians] miserable, dictated to, in stalags, in gulags, they're all being chopped up by this monster. It's just crazy."

It should be noted that Stone also produced the documentary "Ukraine on Fire" in 2016 about the country's revolution to dethrone its pro-Russian president only to see Russia annex Crimea in response in 2014. The Hollywood Reporter lambasted the film for its "Kremlin-friendly version of the events." The Wrap reported that "Revealing Ukraine," Stone's follow-up released in 2019, was removed from Ukraine's TV schedules due to a rash of complaints, roughly around the same time the director allegedly asked Putin to be godfather to his adult daughter.

Donald Trump

Let's face it. A compilation of the fawning accolades that Donald Trump uttered about Vladimir Putin would enjoy a word count higher than Tolstoy's "War and Peace," no easy read regardless of language. Normally, politicians would be suspicious of a foreign leader engaging in nefarious activities that might affect other nations. Not Trump.

At the 2018 Helsinki Summit, after a private meeting with Putin, Trump went against his own intelligence forces by siding with the Russian leader regarding interference in U.S. elections. "President Putin says it's not Russia," he said (via BBC News). "I don't see any reason why it would be." Trump also defended Putin when asked by Fox News, per CNN, over allegations that the Russian president killed members of his own opposition, saying, "There are a lot of killers. ... What, you think our country's so innocent?" Trump remained unrepentant about his support for Putin, even when much of the Western world was enraged over Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Calling the move "genius" and "savvy" on "The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show," he added, "Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that's wonderful. ... He's gonna go in and be a peacekeeper."

After all these years, Putin's assessment of Trump has come across as more studious in comparison. "He is a colorful individual," Putin said to NBC News. "... He had not been part of big-time politics before, and some like it, some don't like it but that is a fact."