President Vladimir Putin has extended Russian citizenship to actor Gerard Depardieu, who left his native France to protest the imposition of a 75-percent tax hike on the wealthy, the Kremlin said Thursday.

The award-winning Depardieu, who has appeared in more than 170 films, is eligible for citizenship under Article 89 of the Russian Constitution, officials here said.

"If Gerard really wants to have a Russian passport or a residence permit, then he can consider the matter settled," Putin said Thursday.

Depardieu, 64, moved to the Belgian border town of Nechin after the French government enacted the new wealth tax.

France's prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, blasted Depardieu's decision and described him as a "pathetic" character, prompting the enraged actor to proclaim a desire to renounce his French citizenship.

The performer also publicly joked that Putin had already sent him a Russian passport.

"I understand Gerard Depardieu's feelings," Putin said Thursday. "But I should say that though he stated that he considers himself a European and a citizen of the world, I know for sure, since we have warm, personal and friendly relationship, that he considers himself a Frenchman."

Artists, according to the Russian president, are people with "a special spirit" whose feelings are easily hurt. EFE