Vladimir Putin’s gay rights charm offensive ahead of Sochi Winter Olympics is all lies, activists say

The Russian leader is at pains to reassure the West that gay athletes and visitors are welcome at the Sochi Winter Olympics. But Oliver Wright and Alec Luhne in Moscow say the message from the LGBT community is far different

President Vladimir Putin's latent charm offensive ahead of the Sochi Games to persuade the West that he is not homophobic has been condemned by Russian gay rights campaigners as "lies".

In a round of carefully choreographed interviews with British and US television presenters Mr Putin claimed he was on "friendly terms" with a number of gay people and was "not prejudiced" in any way.

The Russian President also insisted there was no professional or social discrimination against gays in Russia and said Sir Elton John - who condemned a newly enacted law that criminalises "gay propaganda" during a recent performance in Moscow - was an "extraordinary person" loved by millions "regardless of his sexual orientation".

He told the BBC presenter Andrew Marr that he would be prepared to meet with the star and the English actor Sir Ian McKellen to discuss their concerns.

But Mr Putin's newly found liberal voice was met with incredulity by gay rights activists who said it did not square with the government-sponsored discrimination that was routinely practiced in Russia.

Yelena Kostyuchenko, a columnist for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and an LGBT organiser, said Mr Putin was "lying" when he said that gay people did not face discrimination at work or in Russian society.

Activists pointed to arrests, homophobic statements from officials and persistent violence against the LGBT community as proof that the opposite was true.

Ms Kostyuchenko said she herself has been detained and beaten with other activists during attempts to hold gay pride parades and "kissing rallies" pressing for LGBT rights.

Vladimir Putin: 'I know some people who are gay, we're on friendly terms'  

The gay community now faces the possibility of further laws targeting them. Proposals by Yelena Mizulina, the author of the "gay propaganda" law, would see a new law allowing children to be taken away from gay parents.

"Many of my friends in same-sex families are either moving abroad or buying guns" in response to the proposals, Ms Kostyuchenko told The Independent

Vladimir Putin’s attack on homosexuality is shattering the lives of Russians  

In June last year, Mr Putin signed a law forbidding the promotion of "gay propaganda" among minors that could be interpreted to ban any public event in support of gay rights. Activists argue that the law also condones homophobia and violence against gay people.

Mr Putin says the new law does not harm anybody and there is "no danger" for homosexual competitors or spectators at the forthcoming Winter Olympics.

But on Saturday, a gay man was detained in Voronezh when he ran toward the Olympic torch relay with a rainbow flag. He was later questioned at a police station. Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to the BBC’s Andrew Marr during an interview in Sochi Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to the BBC’s Andrew Marr during an interview in Sochi

In October, three LGBT activists unfurled rainbow flags in St Petersburg as Russia's culture minister carried the torch past, after which one of the activists said a man dressed in Olympic regalia attacked her. "Let's call things by their names," Ms Kostyuchenko said. "It's written in the law that gay people are not equal to other people." 

The Russian president’s charm offensive in Britain comes as Kremlin-connected opponents of gay rights continue to inflame tensions.

In December, Mr Putin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a conservative television presenter with outspoken views on homosexuality, as the head of the new state news agency Rossiya Segodnya. Mr Kiselyov had previously made statements that gay people should be banned from donating blood, sperm or organs, telling a television audience in 2012 that "their hearts should be burnt or buried in the ground as unsuitable for the continuation of life."

Meanwhile, Ivan Okhlobystin, an actor and former Russian Orthodox priest who has been a main ideologue for the Kremlin-linked Right Cause party, earlier this month began a campaign to re-criminalise gay sex.

Okhlobystin, the star of a popular medical sitcom inspired by Scrubs, posted an open letter to Mr Putin calling for a Soviet-era article against sodomy to be restored to the Penal Code.

But Mr Putin insists that Russia is more tolerant of gay people than many other countries. "It seems to me that the law we adopted doesn't harm anybody," he said. "What's more, homosexual people can't feel inferior here, because there is no professional, career or social discrimination against them. So there’s no danger for individuals of this non-traditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as visitors or participants."

Asked whether athletes or spectators who protest against the law could face action, Mr Putin said: "Protest actions and propaganda are two slightly different things. Similar, but from a legal point of view, protesting against a law is not the same as propaganda for homosexuality or child abuse."

Mr Putin has also been forced to deny allegations of corruption surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Western and Russian opposition critics have made allegations that large amounts of money have been stolen during construction for the 2014 Olympics in the Black Sea city, but have provided little concrete evidence.

Some Olympic subcontractors have said corruption has been endemic during preparations for the games, which start on 7 February.

In an interview with ABC, BBC and Russian and Chinese journalists, Mr Putin said: "We don’t see any large-scale instances of corruption during our preparations ... in Sochi. If anyone has any information about corruption in Sochi, please hand it over, we will be glad and grateful."

Russia has spent more than $50bn (£30bn) on preparations for the Games, making them the most expensive in Olympic history. The Putin government hopes to show the world a modern face of Russia, which has faced increased criticism from the West over human rights.


Video: Islamists threaten Sochi Games
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor