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Finally, a Nation That Appreciates the Rich. Alas, it's Russia.

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Those who are not fans of French cinema can still appreciate the genius of the actor G‚rard Depardieu. To avoid the threat of a 75 percent "millionaire's tax" in la belle France, he has taken Russian citizenship.

Who needs Paris when one has seen the glories of (a) Saransk in the Republic of Mordovia and (b) the flat tax?

Depardieu, 64, heretofore a revered figure in French film and a glutton for attention, received his new passport Sunday from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely misses a chance to twit the West.

One of Russia's bigger problems is its middle class fleeing the country over Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule and taking its money with them. The Russian Central Bank says $80 billion left the country in 2011.

Now the middle class can be replaced by French millionaires — Brigitte Bardot, the onetime sex kitten turned animal rights activist, is threatening to follow Depardieu if the Lyons zoo euthanizes two elephants said to be suffering from tuberculosis.

Putin has sent dissidents and troublesome celebrities to gulag-like penal camps, but so far, no protest from Bardot.

Depardieu's protest over the "millionaire's tax" planned by France's socialist government first led him to Belgium, which has a thriving colony of tax-dodging French chats grosses.

Then he became enraptured with Russia's flat income tax rate of 13 percent.

Irony abounds. The flat tax, where the wealthy pay at the same rate as the people who shine their shoes, is a dream of conservatives in the United States. But it's most popular in the old Iron Curtain nations.

Russia supplements the income tax with an equally regressive 18 percent Value Added Tax, essentially a national sales tax. So much for the worker's paradise.

But there also are 41 percent levies on oil and gas profits, which pay for the social services that Russians have become accustomed to.

Depardieu, a big favorite of movie fans in Russia, has been offered a free apartment in Saransk, an industrial city of about 234,000 southeast of Moscow. He visited Monday, but the Saransk weather forecast for today is 17 degrees and freezing fog.

Maybe France will let him visit. He may run into some visa trouble.

REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM



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