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French Actor Depardieu Gets Enthusiastic Welcome (And a Personal Greet from Putin) After Fleeing Socialist France

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"I am very happy, it's very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here"

French actor Gerard Depardieu, left, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin after his arrival late Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, at the president's residence in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Photo: AP)

French actor Gerard Depardieu, left, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin after his arrival late Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, at the president's residence in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Photo: AP)

(TheBlaze/AP) — The day after receiving his new Russian passport from President Vladimir Putin, French actor Gerard Depardieu flew Sunday to the provincial Russian town of Saransk, where he was greeted as a local hero and offered an apartment for free.

Depardieu had sought Russian citizenship as part of his battle against a proposed 75% tax on millionaires in France, opting instead for Russia's flat 13% rate.

Putin granted Depardieu's request last week and then welcomed the actor late Saturday to his residence in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russian television showed the two men embracing and then chatting over supper, discussing a soon-to-be-released film in which Depardieu plays Russian monk Grigory Rasputin.

This photo taken on January 5, 2013 shows French actor Gerard Depardieu (L) speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) during their meeting at Putin's residence in Sochi. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

On his Sunday trip to Saransk, a town about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Moscow, Depardieu was met at a snow-covered airport by the governor and a group of women in traditional costume singing folk songs. He flashed his new passport to the crowd before setting out on a tour of the town.

The governor invited Depardieu to settle in Saransk and offered him an apartment of his choice, according to reports on state television.

"I am very happy, it's very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here," Depardieu reportedly said of his new home.

French actor Gerard Depardieu, who has left his homeland to avoid higher taxes, shows off his new Russian passport on January 6, 2013 at Mordovia airport in Saransk, where he has been offered residence. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Depardieu has not said where he will take up residence in Russia, only that he does not want to live in Moscow because it is too big and he prefers a village.

The Frenchman has spent a fair bit of time in Russia in recent years, including for the filming of the French-Russian film "Rasputin," and has expressed an admiration for Putin.

But it is Russia's low taxes that appear to be the biggest draw at the moment, as France continues to, in his words, punish "success, creation and talent."

The Agence France-Presse has video of the reception:

France's new Socialist government tried to raise the tax on income above €1 million ($1.3 million) to 75 percent from the current 41 percent earlier this year. That plan was struck down by the highest court, but Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac said Sunday that the government is reworking the law so that the "super rich"will still be forced to pay an elevated rate. He said the government is also considering putting the new tax in place for longer than the two years initially proposed.

"I find it a bit pathetic that for tax reasons this man — whom by the way I admire infinitely as an actor — has decided to exile himself," Cahuzac said.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described the actor as "shabby and unpatriotic," according to the BBC.

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Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.

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