Putin's PR Contradicts Reality

Russia's president claims no one is discriminated against and no one is hurt by antigay laws — meanwhile, arrests continue.

BY Lucas Grindley

January 19 2014 6:19 PM ET

Arrests continued this weekend even as Russian president Vladimir Putin claims his country's ban on so-called gay propaganda "does not hurt anyone."

In an interview on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Putin argued that, "It seems to me that the law that we have adopted does not hurt anyone" and that "individuals of non-traditional orientation cannot feel like second-rate humans in this country because they are not discriminated against in any way."

The interview aired on the same weekend that a man was tackled to the ground and then arrested by security personnel all for waving a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch passed by in Voronezh, Russia. The Associated Press reports that the man, Pavel Lebedev, is still in custody and being questioned by authorities.

The "gay propaganda" law forbids any mention of homosexuality while in the presence of minors. Putin himself warned LGBT visitors to the Olympics last week to "leave children alone, please." Holding a rainbow flag in public appears to be among the violations of that rule.

Athletes might face a lower bar, though, if Putin's answer to a question about protests is to be believed. Putin was asked to explain whether wearing a rainbow pin as a form of protest would be enough to get an athlete arrested. Putin seemed to say rainbow pins are fine, drawing a vague distinction between "protest" and "propaganda" while never explaining how that line is defined.

Putin also doubled down during the This Week interview on his claim that all he's doing is protecting children from LGBT people. "My personal position is that society must keep children safe," he said.

Using that same logic, the country's Parliament is on the verge of considering a law that would remove children from their homes if it's discovered their parents are gay or lesbian. The country has already barred gays and lesbians from adopting, and it's barred any foreigners from adopting even if they are straight and live in a country that is supportive of equal rights.

Putin contends that Russia is actually mainstream on LGBT equality when compared to the rest of the world. "Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one third of the world's nations," he said, listing off antigay laws that he considers more harsh. "What does it mean? Does it mean we need to cancel any major international sports events in those countries? Probably not." At one point, Putin tried to pretend that some states in the U.S. still outlawed gay sex and was corrected by Stephanopoulos, who noted the Supreme Court struck down such laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

Putin is open about his goal of using the Olympics to reshape the image of Russia worldwide.

"I would very much like during the Olympics, for the athletes, visitors, reporters and those who will follow the Olympics on TV through the media," he said in the interview, "for people to see a new Russia."

Watch the segment on ABC's This Week below:

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