MOSCOW -- Gérard Depardieu, the French actor who is fleeing high taxes in France, arrived Saturday in Russia by private airplane to claim his new Russian passport, possibly from President Vladimir V. Putin himself.
A spokesman for Mr. Putin told Reuters that the two men would meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, an encounter that might include the handing over of the passport.
When he receives the papers, Mr. Depardieu will become a Russian citizen, liable only for a flat, 13 percent income tax rate, compared with the 75 percent on income over 1 million euros ($1.3 million) he would be likely to pay under France's new Socialist government. A French court temporarily suspended the top tax rate, but the government is expected to reinstate it.
If radio talk shows and Internet commentary are any guides, the move will make him a compatriot with a great number of disillusioned fans. The Russian intelligentsia, which form one of the world's great, remaining bastions of admirers of French moviemaking, are also among the most vocal critics of Mr. Putin.
"He became a Russian citizen to replace the three million Russians who have escaped Russia in the Putin era," the satirist Viktor Shenderovich said on the Echo of Moscow radio station.
To escape the new French tax bill, Mr. Depardieu first registered as a resident of Belgium. The resulting furor apparently captured Mr. Putin's attention, and he offered Russian citizenship to Mr. Depardieu. The actor responded by writing an open letter to Russian state television, saying, "I really love your president, V. Putin, and it is mutual."
But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Putin will continue a Soviet-era tradition by taking up more causes of citizens of Western states who are in disputes with their governments.
On Friday, another French screen legend, Brigitte Bardot, threatened to apply for Russian citizenship if two ailing elephants were euthanized in a zoo in Lyon. Ms. Bardot has long been an outspoken animal rights activist.
For Russian intellectuals, a sense of dismay is setting in.
Last October, Mr. Depardieu attended a birthday celebration of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya whom human rights groups accuse of torture and murder. He saluted the Chechen, saying "Glory to Kadyrov."
Gleb Razdolnov, a writer, published a disappointed letter on the Web site of Echo of Moscow.
"Dear Gérard," he wrote. "I'd rather not believe you are a soulless monster thinking only of your own profits, and I'd rather not believe that you, my favorite actor, can forget about humanism, about doing good."
"Why," he added, "has Gérard Depardieu become a clown for the Kremlin puppet masters?"
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.