Why Russia Has Steven Seagal to Thank for Its New Fitness Program

Russian President Vladimir Putin and American actor Steven Seagal visit a newly built sports complex for Sambo-70, a prominent wrestling school in Moscow. Putin is teaming up with Seagal to promote the Soviet-style regime of rigorous physical training for school children. Sambo is the official in-house martial art of the KGB security services and one that Putin practiced before switching to judo. (Photo: Alexia Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images).

When Russian President Vladimir Putin decided last year that the time had come to reinstate a nationwide Stalin-era fitness program, he turned to the one man he knew could inspire the masses: Steven Segal.

The 61-year-old former action star is actually a close pal of Putin; with the two reportedly bonding over a shared love of the martial arts (Putin practices judo, Seal is a former aikido instructor) and physical fitness.

“The first time I went to his house, I saw he had a life-size statue of Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo," Segal said in a recent interview. "I was amazed, I wanted to get to know him better.”

According to a Bloomberg report, Segal's relationship with the Kremlin was instrumental in providing U.S. lawmakers access to Russian security officials during an investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

“Seagal opened some doors,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who led the delegation, said on CNN. “We got to meet top people.”

So it's no surprise then that last year, Putin called upon his friend to help breathe new life into fitness workout called “Ready for Labor and Defense.” The program, which harkens back to the 1930s, seeks to improve the overall health of the nation and "pay homage to our national historical traditions".

“We’re discussing what is necessary to develop mass sport," Putin added. "How to attract the vast majority of our citizens to take part in regular physical training.”

Segal, who appeared with Putin (as well as provided instruction) at a Russian martial arts and fitness event earlier this month, said that he considers the leader to not only be his friend, "but also his brother."

“Your president is an unbelievably strong person, he raised the country up," he told the state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "Every time I come to Russia, it’s more and more of a pleasure.”

Could the "Under Siege" be planning a more permanent move to Russia? Just this month, he listed his 4,400 acre ranch in Northern California for $12M, sparking rumors he might be thinking of leaving the U.S.

“I’ve got no intention whatsoever of renouncing my American citizenship, because I love and believe in my country," he said Wednesday. "But I don’t have anything against [taking] Russian citizenship. Maybe one day it’ll happen.”