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ESCAPE ROUTE

It’s as if Paul Newman and Jane Fonda had fled the United States of America in protest against something or the other and sought Russian citizenship. Americans would be surprised, but would they really care? It’s a free country, as they say. Whereas the French are quite cross about the decision of the Oscar-winning actor, Gerard Depardieu, who received Russian citizenship at the hands of President Vladimir Putin recently.

And hard on the heels of Depardieu’s defection comes the news that actress Brigitte Bardot, France’s leading sex symbol for the generation who are now drawing their pensions, is also threatening to give up her French citizenship and go Russian.

Depardieu, who was described by director Marguerite Duras as “a big, beautiful runaway truck of a man,” is much larger than life — about the size of a baby whale, in fact. He is over the top in every sense: 180 films and TV credits, 17 motorbike accidents, five or six bottles of wine a day by his own reckoning.

He reckons he has paid 145 million euros in taxes since he started work at 14, and he doesn’t want to pay any more. France’s Socialist government is bringing in a new 75 per cent tax rate for people earning more than one million euros per year, and so Depardieu is leaving. When the outraged actor declared that he would ask for Russian citizenship, Putin announced that he could have it at once. By the weekend it was a done deal. “I adore your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers,” the actor burbled. “...Russia is a country of great democracy.”

It is also a country with a 13 per cent flat tax rate, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin crowed on Twitter: “In the West, they are not well acquainted with our tax system. When they find out, we can expect a mass migration of rich Europeans into Russia.”

It wasn’t high taxes that obsessed Brigitte Bardot, however; it was animal rights. She was protesting against a court order in Lyon ordering that two circus elephants suffering from tuberculosis since 2010 be put down.

Going Russian opens up a huge new opportunity for avoiding burdensome taxation. All those American millionaires who have been condemned by recent events to live under the rule of that foreign-born Muslim Communist, Barack Obama, and pay an appalling 39.6 per cent tax on the portion of their annual earnings that exceeds $400,000, have an alternative at last. They can do what they have been telling anybody who complains about the gulf between the rich and the poor in America: they can go to Russia. The problem is that they will actually have to live there for six months of the year to qualify for the 13 per cent Russian tax rate.

Well, actually, there is another problem. Some Russians may not welcome them with open arms. Even the arrival of Depardieu is being greeted with mixed feelings. Tina Kandelaki, the celebrated host of the celebrity talk show, Details, has no reservations about him at all: he can stay in her apartment. “Let’s not divide up Depardieu,” she tweeted. “Simply give him to me.” But a less starry-eyed observer replied: “Haven’t we got enough alcoholics?”

Evidently not.