Russian President Putin tries, and fails, to reassure the world about his country’s treatment of gay people by saying they are welcome to the Winter Olympics – as long as they stay away from children.
It was supposed to be an opportunity for good PR: a press conference where the Russian president would speak, surrounded by a group of volunteers kitted out in the colourful Olympic-themed uniforms.
But Vladimir Putin’s attempt to dampen criticism over the treatment of the gay community in Russia, only managed to heighten concerns over his attitude.
During a question and answer session with Olympic volunteers, Mr Putin was asked about Russia’s attitude towards gay and lesbian people.
The Russian president said that gay people would be treated well and would suffer no ill treatment – with the proviso that they stay away from children:
“One can feel calm and at ease,” said the Russian president. “Just leave kids alone, please.”
The Winter Olympics begin in Sochi on 7 February, but the run-up to the Games has been shrouded in controversy over the Kremlin’s anti-gay policies, with some politicians and high-profile sports personalities refusing to attend.
US President Barack Obama is staying away from the Games, and in what was widely interpreted as a deliberate protest against the policies, he sent the openly gay athlete Billie Jean King with the US delegation.
Russian news agencies reported Mr Putin saying: “We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships.
“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.”
Last year, Russia passed a law banning “homosexual propaganda” and “non-traditional” sex among minors. This has led to a crackdown on any references to gay issues in the media, and in public debate, as well as an outright ban on gay rights parades.
During the press conference, Putin was also asked why some of the volunteers’ uniforms were rainbow coloured, given the government’s anti-gay stance. To which the president added: “I didn’t design the uniform.”