NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Vladimir Putin sought to ease concerns that Russia’s new anti-gay law would be used to punish athletes who display rainbow flags during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, while insisting that gays are not discriminated against in his country.
“I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields,” Putin said in an interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television late Tuesday. “We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.”
He added that Russians love Tchaikovsky even though the composer was said to have been a homosexual. “Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music,” Putin said.
Putin offered to meet with members of the gay and lesbian community if they asked to see him.
The law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” which Putin signed in July, makes it illegal to expose minors to information that portrays these relationships as normal or attractive. The law imposes hefty fines, while also subjecting foreign citizens to up to 15 days in prison.
While Russian officials have reassured the International Olympic Committee that Russia will not discriminate against homosexuals during the Feb. 7-23 Sochi Games, they also have said that the law will be enforced. This has left open the question of what would happen to athletes or fans if they made statements or gestures that could be considered propaganda.
In the interview at his country residence outside Moscow, Putin said that they would not be punished. But he clearly has no intention of allowing a gay pride parade during the Olympics. Last month, he signed a decree banning all demonstrations and rallies in Sochi throughout the Winter Games.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called Putin a “schoolyard bully” during a television appearance last month and urged Olympic athletes to wave the rainbow flag during opening ceremonies.
Putin said he had full confidence in Russia’s special services and law enforcement agencies to provide security during the games. Sochi sits just west of Russia’s North Caucasus, where an Islamic insurgency is simmering.
“Terrorists are always a threat to someone,” he said. “If we’ll be scared of them, it means they have won. But that doesn’t mean we can have a devil-may-care attitude toward this threat. We must do everything to stop these threats and not give the terrorists a single chance to demonstrate their brutality and hatred of mankind.”
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