Lord Browne’s campaign for gay rights stops at the Kremlin

Former BP boss shocks his supporters by defending Putin’s homophobia

He’s been lauded for speaking out against homophobia in the business world, after leaving his top job at an oil firm when his relationship with a male escort was revealed by a Sunday newspaper.

Just days ago he won support for saying companies should take a proactive stance in combating anti-gay attitudes in Russia by sending gay employees there.

But former BP chief executive Lord Browne of Madingley has now risked irritating gay rights campaigners by trying to explain Vladimir Putin’s motivation for introducing homophobic legislation.

In his new book, The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good for Business, published on Thursday, Lord Browne admits that Mr Putin “appears to be behind a drive against homosexuals” and criticises Russian rhetoric “reminiscent of the bureaucrats in Italy in the wake of the bubonic plague”.

However, he then insists the Russian President is pursuing the controversial policy because he is a “pragmatist”.

“To me, Russia’s anti-gay legislation is more about political posturing than it is about a sincere disgust for gay people,” Lord Browne writes.

“As others have pointed out, it is likely he is seeking to divert attention from other restrictive laws, passed at the end of 2011 in the aftermath of mass protests, that more broadly limit civil rights. In an echo of persecutions of the past, the homosexual minority is being used as a pawn in the pursuit of power.”

However, campaigners feel Mr Putin’s actions deserve no explanation. Richard Lane at Stonewall, told The Independent: “Attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are often the ‘canary in the coal mine’ ahead of a broader crackdown. Whatever Mr Putin’s motives, the results are devastating to those fighting for fundamental human rights.”

Lord Browne insisted last night he was in “total agreement” with Stonewall. The group has been infuriated by Russia’s increasingly homophobic attitude, encouraged by Mr Putin saying that gay visitors were welcome to the Sochi Winter Olympics before warning them to “leave children alone, please”.

Lord Browne started working with Mr Putin at the turn of the millennium. For seven years they met frequently, with BP even gaining access to Russia’s oil through a major joint venture, until Lord Browne quit the firm. They had never discussed his sexuality and Mr Putin had never indicated his attitude to gay rights.

The Glass Closet argues that young gay employees should come out early at work and that businesses should foster a tolerant working environment that allows them to be open about their sexuality. Lord Browne says this will result in a more productive workforce. In the book’s prologue, he writes: “I wish I had been brave enough to come out during my tenure as chief executive of BP.”