A U.S.-based Russia scholar contends that Vladimir Putin is looking to galvanize support for Russian rule in Ukraine by linking ultranationalist, neo-Nazi values and support for LGBT equality, which Putin frequently laments as a Western phenomenon.
Matthew Schmidt, an assistant professor of national security and political science at the University of Connecticut who holds an MA in Russian studies, told Raycom News Network that Putin has positioned himself as a defender of "traditional values" in his propaganda war with the West," going so far as to claim that "gay Nazis" were responsible for the initial uprising in Kiev, when pro-Ukrainian demonstrators took to the street to oppose the since-deposed pro-Russian regime.
"The gay Nazis label was simultaneously an attempt to tie the new pro-Europe camp in Kiev to the hated German Third Reich while also taking advantage of the growing acceptance of gay marriage in the West, particularly in the United States," reports Raycom.
Massachusetts-based evangelical preacher and noted homophobe Scott Lively — whose most notorious book claims that the Nazi Party was run by gay men — made the same argument Putin advanced in March, asserting that gay people were responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
"Putin has said homosexuality is not our values, and that sense of tolerance of homosexuality is not part of Euroasia," Schmidt told the news network, while noting that Schmidt will be in Ukraine monitoring the latest referendum on independence, scheduled for May 25.
Schmidt believes that Putin is hoping to reunite much of the former Soviet Union into a new empire known as Euroasia, noting that the Russian president has "written extensively on the subject of Euroasia," envisioning a far-reaching empire with Moscow at its center of power.
Putin, who was reelected to an unprecedented third presidential term in 2012, has already come under fire for his support of Russia's laws criminalizing so-called gay propaganda, which essentially bans any positive depiction of LGBT people or identities in any public forum, publication, or digital space where minors might access it.
Since Putin signed the draconian law into being last summer, LGBT Russians and visitors have been arrested, beaten, kidnapped, and killed. But in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin repeatedly claimed that gay people faced no discrimination in Russia, while simultaneously saying the nation needed to be "cleansed" of homosexuality, and warning LGBT athletes and Olympic spectators to "leave the children in peace."