MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered citizenship to US former world champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. during a meeting in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed from Ukraine.
Jones, 46, told Putin he enjoys visiting Russia, although it would be easier if he had a Russian passport, according to a transcript published on the Kremlin website in Russian late on Wednesday.
"People here love sport," he said. "That's why I love this place."
An English-language transcript the Kremlin published later gave a different version of Jones's comment: "All the people here seem to love Roy Jones Jr. And I love when people love me."
Putin said that he likes boxing "very much" and will gladly offer citizenship to the fighter if he intends to spend "significant" time in the country.
"Your name is very well known among sports and boxing fans in Russia," the Russian President added.
Jones won world titles in middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight classes over more than a decade from 1994, according to his website.
While he is back in the ring, Jones, who is also a rapper and actor, is visiting Crimea as a singer at a boxing show, according to the Kremlin.
The fighter made a written application for Russian citizenship in the Crimean resort of Yalta on Thursday, according to state television, which showed the document.
Jones said he will not give up his US citizenship, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency said later in the day, citing the boxer.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March last year, triggering the deepest crisis since the Cold War in its relations with the US and the European Union, which imposed sanctions that have helped push Russia's economy into its first recession in six years.
People like Jones can help improve relations between the US and Russia, Putin said.
The Russian president has met numerous US celebrities in recent years. The Hollywood star Mickey Rourke, 62, publicly expressed his admiration for Putin during a visit to Moscow last year, while fellow actor Steven Seagal praised the Russian leader as "'one of the greatest world leaders'' on state-funded Russia Today television.
Actor Gerard Depardieu took a Russian passport in 2013 to avoid paying higher taxes in his native France. He dined with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after receiving his new citizenship.