International

Putin: Russia must 'cleanse' itself of gays, but they shouldn't fear Sochi

Russian president offers assurances to gay and straight Olympics participants that safety is not a concern

President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Russian and foreign journalists in Sochi on Jan. 19, 2014.
ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Russia's anti-gay law Sunday, linking homosexuality with pedophilia and stating Russia needs to "cleanse" itself of gays if it wants to increase its birth rate.

Putin's comments in an interview broadcast Sunday with Russian and foreign television stations displayed the wide gulf between Putin’s views on homosexuality and that of many in the west ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that could be overshadowed by the debate.

A Russian law passed last year banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors has caused an international outcry and led to calls to boycott the games, due to take place in February.

Putin refused to answer a question from the BBC on whether he believes that people are born gay or become gay. The Russian law, however, suggests information about homosexuality can influence a child's sexual orientation.

The legislation has been blamed for contributing to growing animosity toward gays in Russian society, with rights activists reporting a rise in harassment and abuse.

International concern about how gays will be treated in Sochi have been met with assurances from Russian officials and Olympics organizers that there will be no discrimination in Sochi, and Putin reiterated that stance Sunday.

"There are no fears for people with this nontraditional orientation who plan to come to Sochi as guests or participants," Putin said in the TV interview.

He added that the law was aimed at banning propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, suggesting that gays are more likely to abuse children.

Defending his views on homosexuality, Putin noted with pride that Russia saw more births than deaths last year for the first time in two decades. Population growth is vital for Russia's development and "anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up," he said, using a word usually reserved for military operations.

Putin accused the United States of double standards in its criticism of Russia, pointing to laws that remain on the books in some U.S. states classifying gay sex as a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in 2003 that such laws were unconstitutional.

Homosexuality was a crime in the entire former Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. It was decriminalized in Russia in 1993.

Confidence on security detail

Putin aimed to reassure not just gay people planning to attend the Olympics in February, but all attendants that they would be safe at the games.

Late last month, two separate suicide bombings on an electric bus and at a train station in Volgograd, located 425 miles northeast of Sochi, killed 34 people and injured over 100.

"If we allow ourselves to be weak, feel weak, let our fear to be seen, by doing that we'll assist those terrorists in achieving their goals," Putin said.

Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a segment aired Sunday on This Week about safety concerns at the Olympics, Putin offered new assurances that security would not be an issue.

"We have adequate means available to us" to deal with attacks in other regions of Russia than Sochi, Putin said. Analysts have noted that the region surrounding the Olympic host city will be heavily guarded during and ahead of the games.

Putin further pledged that the security task force itself would not engender what some analysts have suggested will be a 'Gulag Olympics.'

"We will try to make sure that security measures are not in-your-face, do not pressure the athletes and visitors or reporters. At the same time, we'll do everything within our power to make sure those efforts are effective."

Putin also appeared confident that allegations of corruption surrounding the sporting event were false. 

In his interview with ABC, Putin denied suggestions that the cost of the Olympics — the most expensive in history at $51 billion — was inflated by corruption, which analysts suggest is rampant in the Russian Federation. 

"I do not see any serious signs of corruption at this time," he told Stephanopoulos, inviting nay-sayers to provide "objective data" to substantiate their claims. 

The Sochi Winter Olympics will run Feb. 7-23.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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