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RUSSIA

Depardieu parties with Chechen strongman

French star and newly-registered Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu on Monday visited his "friend" the controversial Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, after partying into the night and vowing to make a film about the Muslim region.

Depardieu parties with Chechen strongman
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov hosting French actor Gérard Depardieu on February 24th. Photo: Instagram screengrab/Ramzan Kadyrov

The French actor, who was given Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin amid a tax row with Paris, arrived in Chechnya's main city Grozny on a private jet after touring dairy factories in Saransk, the city in central Russia where he took residence at the weekend.

The actor toured sights in Grozny Monday after dancing the night away with Chechnya's leadership. He visited several museums and the city's giant mosque, where he "was shaken by its grandeur and beauty," the Chechen government website said.

Russia's state-controlled channels followed spellbound as Depardieu was hosted by a tracksuited Kadyrov in his vast residence, where entertainment
included a children's folk dancing troupe in national costumes and a female singer in a hijab who performed a French hit song "Je t'aime".

Footage showed Depardieu eventually breaking into a dance at the party late Sunday, attempting to do the Chechen lezginka (national dance) alongside a
young woman in a coloured scarf, as his host and other officials clapped with contented smiles.

"This is a visit to see my friend," Depardieu was quoted as saying Monday by the Chechen government press service.

Kadyrov, 36, who has ruled Chechnya with an iron grip since 2007 and oversaw vast redevelopment and Islamisation in the war-torn region, is loathed
by rights campaigners who accuse him of ordering kidnappings and extrajudicial killings.

The Chechen leader, who recently emerged as a prolific photo blogger, also documented the party on his Instagram site.

On Monday, Kadyrov blogged that he presented Depardieu with a five-room apartment in Chechnya and named him an honorary citizen of the republic. The actor was presented with a special lapel pin and honorary citizen ID card.

One image shows Kadyrov and Depardieu shaking hands over a table full of food, with the caption announcing the start of a new film project called
"Heart of a Father", to be filmed in Grozny.

Photo: Instagram screengrab/Ramzan Kadyrov

"I want to make a movie here, to show that a big film can be made in Grozny," Depardieu was quoted as saying by the Chechen government's official
website. "I want to explain how one man could build a city anew in five years."

"I am sure that happy people live here. Because you need to be truly happy to sing and dance the way Chechens do it," he added.

Rights group Memorial was unimpressed with the French star's antics in Grozny.

"A well-known actor cannot be juggling his name in this way, travelling from dictator to dictator," said leading Memorial activist Oleg Orlov.

Orlov said Depardieu's remarks only showed the actor, once again, as a "dishonourable" man. "This man does not want to understand the realities, he wants to glorify the president of Chechnya," Orlov said, calling Kadyrov "the absolute owner of this small republic, a de-facto dictator.

Gerard Depardieu, who over the years has developed business and personal ties with much-criticized regimes such as those of Cuba or Uzbekistan, was already in Chechnya last October for Kadyrov's 36th birthday.

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RUSSIA

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
   
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
   
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
   
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
   
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
 
   
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
   
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
   
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.
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