Russian President Vladimir Putin has enlisted Hollywood action man Steven Seagal to help him promote a return to Soviet-era fitness.
The unlikely pair opened a new martial arts center outside Moscow on Wednesday, reports Reuters, to kick off Putin’s attempt to bring back a mass physical training program first introduced in the 1930s under Joseph Stalin.
The revival of the GTO system (an acronym in Russian which translates as “Ready for Work and Defense”) could bring major benefits to the country, said Putin, according to a transcript published on the Kremlin’s official website:
“Children should become strong, they should be healthy, love sports and have an opportunity to practice them, should know how to defend themselves, their loved ones, their family. Ultimately, they should be able to defend their motherland.”
Wednesday’s event featured a band playing Soviet marches and students of the Sambo-70 martial arts school dressed in Russia’s national colors. As children tried to pose for pictures with the president, Seagal rushed into the crowd and pulled him out as if he was his bodyguard, in what was apparently a staged incident, as Reuters reports.
“Kids, remain calm, it’s a great honor to take pictures with the president of Russia,” said the announcer.
The presence of Seagal, whose action films are apparently popular in Russia, is a typical Putin gesture, writes the Christian Science Monitor. The president seems to enjoy the company of Western celebrities — last month he bestowed Russian citizenship on the French actor Gerard Depardieu.
“Putin and Seagal have long been friends, and they regularly meet each other,” Putin’s spokesman told reporters, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency.