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Steven Seagal Guest of Chechnya Leader Ramzan Kadyrov at Anniversary Gala

Steven Seagal - P 2013
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Steven Seagal

The "Maximum Conviction" star was the birthday guest of the controversial Moscow-backed leader of the Muslim region.

MOSCOW – Reflecting his image as a Hollywood tough guy, Steven Seagal has become the latest international star to befriend Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Seagal, who's latest role is in the forthcoming Force of Execution, directed by Keoni Waxman, appeared at a gala concert Saturday dedicated to the 195th anniversary of the republic's capital, Grozny.

He thanked Kadyrov for inviting him and his family to the event and said Kadyrov was a "great leader."

The event, which coincided with Kadyrov's 37th birthday, appears to be the latest example of the Moscow-backed Chechen leader wooing film stars.

It is the second visit by Seagal this year; in May the 61-year-old actor met with Kadyrov at his Grozny home. The Chechen leader later called Seagal "almost a Chechen national."

In the same month French actor Gerard Depardieu was also in Grozny along with British actress Elizabeth Hurley to film scenes for Turquoise, a French film partially set in the city.

Both Hurley and Depardieu met with Kadyrov, who has a reputation as the tough guy of the Muslim region.

Kadyrov, who keeps pets that include a tiger, wolf and a white cat named Chanel, controls military units that, in the past, have been accused of kidnapping and torture of suspected Islamic insurgents and their families, charges the Chechen leader denies.

Pompous festivities devoted to Grozny's anniversary and Kadyrov's birthday are often attended by Hollywood stars.

Two years ago Hilary Swank issued a public apology and sacked her manager after being criticized by human rights groups for hobnobbing with Kadyrov at a gala dinner in Grozny.

Grozny, heavily damaged during two secessionist wars in the 1990s, has been largely rebuilt.

A five-room apartment given to Depardieu by Kadyrov, after he took Russian citizenship to avoid a new millionaire's tax band in France, was reportedly destroyed last April when a fire ripped through a 40-story, 475-foot-high skyscraper in Grozny.

No one was hurt during the blaze at the unoccupied luxury Olympus hotel and residential complex, the tallest building in Russia outside Moscow.