You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Putin's Propaganda Is Starting to Look Like a 'Expendables' Sequel

What on earth are Steven Seagal and Mickey Rourke doing in Russia?


Vladimir Putin has friends in Hollywood: washed-up action stars Steven Seagal and Mickey Rourke. Both made trips to Russia this past weekend, with Rourke visiting a swanky Moscow superstore and Seagal travelling to newly-annexed Crimea. The pair also joined in the Russian media’s propaganda campaign, where their bombastic acting skills served them very well.

In an interview this past weekend with LifeNews, a Russian TV station, Rourke expressed admiration for Putin’s “directness and frankness” in his handling of foreign affairs. Rourke also appeared at the GUM department store on Red Square to promote a new clothing line. The line is called Vsyo Putyom, which makes t-shirts with Putin in a range of colors and postures. Rourke's shirt features Putin looking into the distance while wearing a sailor’s cap. Other shirts in the collection show Putin on horseback with text reading “not gonna get us” and Putin wearing black sunglasses. At the store, Rourke announced that, “no one can tell me what to wear.” Rourke added that he intends to wear the shirt in the United States.

Unlike Rourke, Seagal has some experience with this kind of thing. In March, as the world was still reeling from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Seagal gave an interview with the pro-Kremlin newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, in which he held forth on Putin’s greatness and bashed America’s policies in Eastern Europe as “idiotic.” Rossiiskaya Gazeta deemed Seagal as “authoritative in the world today,” and placed him on par with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of political sway.

So Russians saw a familiar face on television last night, when Seagal appeared at a show in honor of the “reunification of Crimea with Russia.” Seagal did not appear alone; a Russian-nationalist motorcycle gang called the Night Wolves accompanied him. At the show, the bikers reenacted Russia’s version of the past eight months of Ukrainian history. An idyllic Slavic scene is interrupted by marching Ukrainian Nazis, whose swastika formation bizarrely matches that of “Springtime for Hitler.” The swastika-shaped Ukrainian Nazi junta is controlled by a pair of massive hands emblazoned with symbols of the U.S., holding huge cigars.

The Nazi-Ukrainians go on a reign of terror until a bunch of Russians with AK-47s show up, duking it out with the Kievan Fourth Reich until the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics solidify, with many evil Ukrainian-Nazi-Fascist-Junta members set on fire in the process. At the end of the show, a massive Mother Russia statue appears along with the Soviet national anthem, heralding the reunification of Crimea with Russia.

Keep in mind that, over the past few years, Putin has cultivated a bombastic, macho man image. Think of his famous shirtless photos on horseback, or the incident last week last week, where Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin mocked President Barack Obama’s masculinity in a particularly caustic tweet. The focus on masculinity resonates with the Russian public (and with some conservative American politicians). Now we’ve reached the point where Steven Seagal’s straight-to-video masculinity is a tool to help legitimize Kremlin foreign policy. 

By the same token, in Russia, Mickey Rourke’s endorsement seems to matter. Russians waited in two-hour lines to buy the Putin t-shirts that Rourke stocked up on.

Admiration for Putin is not all Rourke and Seagal have in common. Both Segal and Rourke are also rabid supporters of PETA. The organization awarded Seagal a “humanitarian award” in 1999, while Rourke released an ad for the organization in 2009 with the headline, “Have the cojones to fix your dog.”