Putin forced to give interview about gays, Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin was forced to give a “gay” interview today to the Associated Press, in the face of growing international pressure against Russia’s draconian new anti-gay law.  With just months to go to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Putin’s interview suggests that Russian leader is more than a bit worried about the international backlash he’s faced.

In the interview, Putin assured AP that some of his best award-recipients are gay.  Or as Putin calls them, “these people.”

“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.”

“State prizes.” Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?

Putin also was forced to weigh in on the brewing Tchaikosvky scandal, in which the Russian authorities have been trying to “in” the famous gay composer.

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. [emphasis added]

Did you catch that?  We don’t love him because of that.  Just in case anyone wondered otherwise.

putin-rainbow2The AP left open the question of whether the Russians would arrest Olympic athletes, guests and media who are openly-gay, or do anything else to run afoul of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law or Russia’s new anti-terror decree that bans all protests, and even meetings, at Sochi the month before and after the Olympics.  As is always the case when Russian officials get asked about this question, they give an initial answer that makes it sound as if no one will get into trouble, then a follow up that suggests they will.

It’s clear, however, who is in trouble: Vladimir Putin.

I’ve been noting for the past month how interesting it is that Putin hasn’t spoken out about the building gay drama.  Lots of other senior Russian officials have, but not Putin.  Now he has.  Anyone who’s run an effective activist campaign against a large corporation, or especially a politician, knows that they try to insulate the CEO, or the Senator or President – they refuse to let him or her comment on the matter – until they feel they absolutely have no choice.  In Putin’s case, that’s clearly what’s happened.  Things have gotten so bad that he no longer has a choice but to respond to international criticism.

And it’s clear why Putin feels so cornered.  The international outrage following the launch of last month’s Russian vodka boycott, has been deafening.  First it was gays and our allies around the world, then it was the international media, just hounding the Russians non-stop about this issue.  Then the next shoe to drop, and it keeps dropping, was world leaders weighing in, like President Obama.  And now we have the news that Obama will meet with NGO representatives, including gay and trans activists, during the G20 meeting in Russia this coming Thursday.  And the additional news that British Prime Minister David Cameron will raise his concerns about the gay situation with Putin.

To call the last month a glaring success would be an understatement.

Putin has even now offered to meet with Russian LGBT activists, something he only offered because President Obama is doing the same.  And President Obama likely only offered it because the issue exploded in the news over the past month following the Russian vodka boycott.

What will be interesting to see is whether Putin actually meets with any gay advocates, and then with whom?  Nikolai Alexeyev was probably Russia’s best-known activist until he suffered a very public anti-Semitic meltdown last week, in which he repeatedly stated that the “Jewish mafia” was out to get him, that Jews control the world, and then he referred to Jews as “yids” and “kikes,” among other pejoratives.

That alone would be reason for most leaders to have concerns about a meeting (Alexeyev’s name, for example, has not popped up on a public list of top Russian activists picked to meet with President Obama on Thursday).

But on the plus side for an Alexeyev-Putin meeting, Alexeyev has been playing into Putin’s anti-American, and anti-gay, messaging of late.  For example, Alexeyev erroneously told a Kremlin propaganda network that Russia’s new anti-gay law would not be applied in practice, only 24 hours before it was used to charge a 24 year old young man who had held a single sign in the center of a small town.

In addition, Alexeyev recently penned a rambling essay in the print version of the Kremlin propaganda network that claimed gay and trans Russians seeking asylum in the US and Europe were liars who were faking their persecution.  He also claimed last night that life in Libya under dictator Muammar Qaddafi was great until the American (and French) bombing, which helped to overthrow Qaddafi, and liberate Libya, spoiled everything.

libya-alexeyevThe question for Putin is whether a potentially-ungrounded gay advocate works to his advantage.  And I suspect it may, from a distance.  Putin would like nothing better than to portray Russia’s LGBT community as nothing more than a bunch of hateful, paranoid nutjobs.  But meeting someone this unpredictable in person is an entirely different matter for a world leader.  There’s no telling what Alexeyev, who has more than a touch of a me-me-me streak along with his virulent anti-semitisim, would do in an actual in person meeting with Vladimir Putin.  Would Alexeyev use the word “kike” with the cameras rolling?  Would he ask Putin about Jewish sperm vodka (a topic Alexeyev recently opined about on Facebook and Twitter)?  And would Putin then be forced to distance himself from the hateful rhetoric on camera, to in essence side with Jews on camera, which won’t do much to endear him to the far-right family-values bigots he’s been wooing of late?

While I’m sure it would make for some fun theater, if I were Putin’s handlers, I wouldn’t want to find out.

Having said that, the ultimate irony in all of this is that Alexeyev may end up getting his meeting with Putin after all, thanks to the international LGBT community he’s so excoriated over the past month.  Alexeyev was opposed to the Russian vodka boycott that exploded the Russian gay issue internationally after years of being practically ignored.  So in a very real way, the only reason that Vladimir Putin is even talking about meeting with LGBT activists is because the world refused to listen to the advice of former Russian gay leader Nikolai Alexeyev.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Bill_Perdue

    Actually I criticize political ideas and try to keep it political, not personal.

    If you agree that the idea that the vodka boycott was a modest effort with modest gains then we have no disagreement.

    If you agree that the main business of the G20 is war and austerity then we have no disagreement.

    If you agree that the Russians will lead their own movement and that our job is to support them, then we have no disagreement.

    If you agree that concentrating on helping our Russian communities and going after the homophobes in the IOC and at NBC-Comcast-MSNBC, Coke etc. is a better focus than the vodka boycott then we have no disagreement.

    We do have a disagreement on Alexeyev. I don’t write him off because I don’t know what’s going on. I did hear reports that the FSB grabbed his computer and who knows what they did to him. I am not opposed to his anti-American views, which are views in opposition to the aggressive wars of the Bushes, the Clinton’s and Obama, and I oppose Obama’s aggression against the Libyans. Those are common views on the left.

    However many disagreements we have they are political not personal. We should keep it that way.

  • http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arel Harry R. Sohl

    Uhhh, I don’t think America is evil, and have never before been called “moral” (thanks for that, btw, I’m going to call my mother.)

  • grayzip

    But again, I am reserving judgment until I taste it.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Holy straw man, Batman! When exactly did any of us only keep talking about vodka and ignore Putin and the IOC? Have you read this blog? I’m sorry, but you know I have a pet peeve about people who just make stuff up in order to criticize me :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    The fact that the spelling varies because of transliteration doesn’t necessarily preclude what you were thinking.

  • grayzip

    That reminds me of the story about Chinese butchers selling rat meat as lamb, where you think, wait, wouldn’t that be more labor-intensive and expensive than the real thing?

  • grayzip

    Thanks! I was thinking he made his Facebook page while drunk; I like to think that we can both be right, but yours is much smarter

  • Bill_Perdue

    The G20 will, as always, be about the needs of banksters to get even more obscenely rich.

    A few bar boycotts are nothing if not modest and have played out their effectiveness for the moment. Continuing to concentrate on vodka when the real question is Putin, the IOC and NBC, etc. The unrelated and massive demos in in places like Berlin and Copenhagen have placed the emphasis where is ought to be – on attacking Putin – and that’s the reason they were so large.

    And most importantly, the coordinated nationwide efforts of groups across the RF and CIS, acting as ‘Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality’ show that the real focus and leadership of the fight against will always be the struggle of Russian brothers and sisters, no matter what the FSB does.

    The events in Europe and the RF and any anti-Putin commotion at the G20 show conclusively that the vodka boycott has been surpassed by the larger question of fighting the Putin regime directly. That fight will be won, or lost, by our Russian communities and their allies.

    My opinion is that it’ll be won, in Russia, and that our best bet for helping them is to build massive demos here and to build a broader movement to boycott the key homophobic allies of the Putin regime like the International Olympic Committee and their chief accomplice, NBC-Comcast-MSNBC.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis
  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah, if you consider the fact that the entire G20 is becoming about gay rights, “modest.” I consider that historic. But perhaps we have different thresholds for success. :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    As always, the very moral left wants to defend letting someone like Qaddafi keep brutalizing people. I can accept criticism of whether these interventions worked in the end, how the country turned out, whether losing a strongman then sends the country into chaos. But let’s stop pretending that everything America does is evil. I’m sorry, I’m a liberal, I’m not a defrocked Russian Jew-hating gay rights activist.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh I think I know. He was saying, I believe, that Michael Lucas, who is Jewish, was supporting the Russian vodka boycott because someone paid him to push Jewish vodka instead, and we all know that Jewish vodka is distilled from sperm.

    Lovely guy.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Languages like Russian don’t use the Roman alphabet (Greek has the same issue). Thus when you translate (transliterate) the name into English, there are various spellings. There are at least three spellings used for Alexeyev’s last name. You might have noticed the same thing in the past with the spelling of former Libyan leader Gaddaffi aka Qaddafi’s last name (who, by the way, Alexeyev is a big fan of.)

  • kurtsteinbach

    Because of Dan Savage, i have “Spreading Santorum,” bookmarked and ready to go for 2016! Bless you Dan…. :D

  • kurtsteinbach

    Or Secretary General. He could go whole hog and change the name of the FSB back to KGB or NKVD. Russia could also change its name back to the Soviet Union, USSR, or CCCP. No one could tell the difference as long s Vlad was in power anyway….

  • grayzip

    Also you keep writing Alexeyev but his facebook page says Alekseev.

  • grayzip

    These People is not a bad name for a sitcom about Russian LGBTers. Ten years from now, sort of a “That 70′s Show” about 2013? I’ll be long dead but someone should run with that.

    Meanwhile I can’t even parse of what Alexeyev is even talking about in the Jewish sperm vodka tweets, but I’m keeping an open mind because apple martinis turned out to be pretty good

  • Bill_Perdue

    The only thing that can change things in Russia are our Russian brothers and sisters, and to do that they have to build alliances with the union movement and the left. http://links.org.au/node/3280 There’s a radicalization going on in Russia that’s just as big as those in places like Egypt, Spain and the US and it will politically defeat Putin just as we’ll politically defeat Obama and his Republican and Democrat allies.

    The vodka boycott was a preliminary way to publicize the situation and had very modest effects. It’s now moribund and bypassed by the growth of a mass movement in Europe (Copenhagen and Berlin) and the beginnings of a movement here which still needs more focus and a central leadership organization. The real fight remains in Russia and will be conducted by our brothers and sisters in spite of the worst that FSB and Putin can do. (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation – Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii)

    Get real. Boycott and divest

  • Doug in SF

    I think it would be better if we had the games there but banned the Russian team from competing.

  • http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arel Harry R. Sohl

    “And liberate Libya”? Yeah, that’s what it was – like always.

  • FLL

    Putin is clearly defining gay people as the “other.” Please note that between the end of WWII and 1991, Americans thought of the Soviets as the “other.” Works both ways. Tell Putin to put that in his pipe and smoke it.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I’m sorry Nicho, but that’s bs. This issue languished for two years, going nowhere, and by coincidence, Harvey Fierstein, Matt Stopera at Buzzfeed, and then Dan Savage weigh in, the boycotts take off (with Queer Nation at the lead), and suddenly the issue is international news, with much of the initial news focus on – what? – our Russian vodka boycott. Heck of a coincidence. There was no post hoc or propter hoc before we joined forces with the nearly 3 dozen Russian LGBT advocates and launched that boycott. But yes, I’m sure you’re right – the issue would have magically exploded on its own this past month after languishing for 2 years in obscurity.

    There’s a reason that these gay issues keep exploding every time Dan Savage and others weigh in (the Queer Nation spokesman just happened to also be our spokesman on StopDrLaura.com 13 years ago – another issue that just happened to explode nationally after we jumped on it). It’s because politics is as much an art as it is a science, but whichever you prefer to call it, it’s something that take serious skill to do well. And that’s why, coincidentally, issues seem to always, or at least often, explode after some of us get involved.

    The first ten times we blow an issue up, perhaps it’s luck. The 11th time, I think we’ve proven it’s because we know what we’re doing.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I had the fortune of getting to know Dan for the first time in 2000, when he offered to help us on our StopDrLaura.com campaign against Laura Schlessinger. He truly is one of the nicest, smartest, fun people I know. But like so many fun people I now, he lives half a continent away! But yes, you are right on the mark, he’s a national treasure, and I think people have no idea how helpful he is to so many of us behind the scenes.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I bet Puti keeps his shirt on around ‘them.’

  • Anonymous

    He’s such a BSer. Just adding to his cult of personality by seeming “tolerant.” He will never admit it in public, but he gives his crazy politicians their barking orders.

  • Indigo

    If only Putin would appoint himself Czar, it’d all be so much more understandable.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    Yes it’s very Rachel McAdams meme: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3vooo8/

  • UncleBucky

    He has “normal relations” with gay people??? Uh? ;o)

  • nicho

    Never really was — except for a handful of bars not serving Stoli and a few photo ops of people pretending to pour vodka into the street. But the pro-”boycott” crowd will take credit for anything good that happens in Russia for the next 10 years.

  • nicho

    Another victim of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy.

  • Rob Dowdy

    He referred to us as people?

    Progress!

  • Badgerite

    It would be nice if the IOC would pull the Games from Sochi. It would be quite the blow. But if they didn’t have a problem with Hitler, I don’t imagine they will have one with Putin. (except when the cameras are rolling)

  • chris10858

    Alexeyev seems to have lost his mind and needs to be excluded from any future LGBT leadership positions.

    Having said that, I must also add that I am really amazed at how Dan Savage has really blossomed into a great American LGBT leader and marketing professional against anti-gay zealots. First, he and his husband came up with It Gets Better series and now the vodka boycott. Sheer brilliance!

    I’ve read his books and often read his sex advice column but I never realized how great of a spokesperson he can be as when I see him on CNN or some other network advocating for equality. Kudos to Dan!! He deserves some award for sure!

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    What’s to talk about? Is it still going on?

  • ARP

    I think Putin is going to try to wait is out. I suspect this will be one of his last public interviews, he start referring to previous comments and bully the reporter. The games are still going on, sponsors are largely intact, and American’s attention span is notoriously short. So, we need to continue to keep this issue at the top of the headlines.

  • caphillprof

    Not much out of the vodka boycott naysayers lately.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    OMG. Tchaikovsky’s music speaks for itself. No one loves his music just because he was gay. What an absurd comment and it avoids the question. Open the archives to researchers so musicologists can tell the full story of his life. That has never happened because of Russian homophobia.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Former Russian gay leader Nikolai Alexeyev.
    He’s a drunken Narcissist who no doubt drinks Stoli.
    In fact, I bet Stoli is delivering cases of Vodka to him.

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