Putin 'not prejudiced' – he has gay friends and likes Elton John
Russian president attempts to appease Western media over new laws against gay propaganda
VLADIMIR PUTIN has claimed that he is "not prejudiced in any way", praising Elton John and insisting he has gay friends.
The Russian president has faced criticism over the country's new laws against gay propaganda, with calls from some critics to boycott next month's Sochi Winter Games.
In a charm offensive, Putin spoke to Western reporters attempting to assure them that Russian laws present "no danger" to gay people.
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in Russia, unlike in one third of the world's countries, being gay is not a crime. So there is no danger for people of this non-traditional sexual orientation to come to the Games," he said.
Putin tried to insist that the new law is not discriminatory and is "only" about restricting the "propaganda of paedophilia and homosexuality" among children. He described Elton John as an "extraordinary person, a distinguished musician" and said that "millions of our people sincerely love him, despite his sexual orientation".
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, he added: "If you want my personal attitude, I would tell you that I don't care about a person's sexual orientation. I myself know some people who are gay – we are on friendly terms. I am not prejudiced in any way."
Perhaps the interpreters misheard, suggests the Daily Telegraph, as on Friday Putin was seen telling gay people to "leave the children alone".
In The Guardian, Barbara Ellen describes Putin's words as "simultaneously offensive, ridiculous and manipulative". Attacking gay "propaganda" rather than actual gayness is "a reeking red herring", she says, and "just as insidious was Putin's oh-so-casual linking of homosexuality to paedophilia, as if it were perfectly reasonable to bracket them".
Putin's instinctive link between homosexuality and paedophilia is an "old chestnut", says Libby Purves in The Times, and "a moment's reflection shows how unfair it is".
She points to statistics that suggest the most enthusiastic predators on children are "hetero all the way" and highlights countries in which underage girls are forced to marry to middle-aged men.
The Telegraph speaks to one of the first people to fall foul of Russia's new law. Dmitry Isakov was convicted, fined and lost his job after standing in a street with a placard calling for freedom for the gays and lesbians of Russia. He sheds light on the real implications of the legislation. "It sends a signal that says gays are people you can fine, who you can insult, who you can maybe even beat up," he says.
And the right to fight against such discrimination is also banned. "It effectively strips gays of the right to fight back against discrimination with public protest," says Isakov, "a right which any minority should have – it is very likely to lead to attitudes becoming even more hard line."