French actor Gerard Depardieu, who recently became a Russian national, has accused President Vladimir Putin's opposition of lacking vision and defended the Kremlin's treatment of the Pussy Riot activist group.
Depardieu, who has been accused in France of abandoning his homeland to avoid a proposed 75 percent tax for millionaires, told the state-run Rossiya-24 television on Sunday that Putin personified Russia's complex and fascinating national character.
Depardieu received a Russian passport at a January 6 dinner with Putin that followed a bitter and very public fight with the French authorities over a disputed new tax on the super-rich.
But he has been feted as a hero by Russian state media for offering the Kremlin a chance to highlight the benefits of its policies in the face of broad criticism of Putin abroad.
Both Putin and Depardieu refer to each other as friends and the French actor served up a severe criticism of those who oppose the Russian leader's 13-year rule.
"The Russian opposition has no programme; it has nothing," he told Rossiya state television's weekly analytical programme in his first extended interview as a Russian citizen.
"Unfortunately, the masses are stupid. Only the individual is beautiful," Depardieu said in remarks translated to Russian from French.
Russia's first mass post-Soviet rallies erupted a year ago in response to a fraud-riddled December parliamentary poll in which the ruling party barely hung on to power.
The opposition held a series of subsequent protests that reached up to 120,000 people at their height.
But Putin's thumping presidential return in May put the movement in doubt, and just more than 20,000 turned out for a march held on Sunday in protest against a new law banning adoptions by Americans.
Depardieu said the opposition had "very smart people" such as former chess champion Garry Kasparov in its ranks.
"But that is good for chess and not much else," said the star, who added that Putin had admitted to liking his "hooligan essence" when the two met in the Russian resort of Sochi last week.
Depardieu also heavily criticised the anti-Putin protest stunt that the Pussy Riot all-female punk band performed last year in Russia's main cathedral.
Two band members are currently serving two-year sentences in Russia's notorious manual labour camps.
Depardieu almost directly repeated Putin's argument that the band members would have received worse treatment had they gone to an Arab country and performed in a mosque.
"Imagine if these ladies walked into a mosque; they would not come out alive," the actor said in a different section of the interview taped in apparent secrecy with the help of a cell phone.
"But when I say such things in France, I am considered an idiot," he added.