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.
The 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.
The 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.