Vladimir Putin has said gay people will be not be subjected to harassment at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, as long as they stay away from children.
The Russian president is currently in Sochi reviewing preparations for the Games, which begin in three weeks. During a meeting with some of the thousands of volunteers who will work during the Olympics, he was asked why their uniforms were rainbow coloured, given the recent Kremlin anti-gay initiatives.
“We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships,” said Putin in comments reported by Russian agencies. “We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things – a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of that thing.”
Putin also added that Russia was more liberal than some other countries, claiming that in certain US states homosexuality was still punishable by law.
“We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations,” said Putin. “You can feel relaxed and calm (in Russia), but leave children alone please,” said Putin.
Since the law on “homosexual propaganda” came into force last year, Russia’s gay community has reported an upturn in homophobic violence and threats. Gay rights rallies are also banned in Russia, and there has been much discussion over whether athletes or spectators displaying rainbow flags or gay rights placards could be arrested during the Olympics.
Earlier this week, Putin said the Games would be held “without discrimination on any grounds”. But he added on Friday that Russia was a traditional country, and refused to accept European values on sexual orientation, claiming that some countries were even discussing the legalisation of paedophilia. He declined to specify which countries, saying it was easy to find out about such things on the internet.
Putin said: “What, are we supposed to follow along like obedient lapdogs, towards whatever consequences await? We have our own traditions, our own culture. We have respect for all of our international partners and ask that they also respect our own traditions and culture.”