President Vladimir Putin, who has come under international criticism for a law banning “gay propaganda”, said on Wednesday that Russians must not “create a torrent of hatred towards anyone” including homosexuals.
The remarks may be aimed at easing concerns about the treatment of gays in Russia ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics which some activists have said should be boycotted in protest against the law.
Putin has staked personal political prestige on staging a successful Games and made a point of telling a Olympic delegation last month that gays would be welcome at Sochi.
At a meeting with leaders of junior political parties on Wednesday, Putin defended the law, saying it was meant to protect young people, but he added that hatred towards gays was unacceptable.
“You know how much criticism I had to listen to, but all we did on the government and legislative level, to do with limiting [gay] propaganda among minors,” Putin said. “In the meantime we should not create a torrent of hatred towards anyone in society, including people of non-traditional sexual orientation.”
Kremlin critics and gay rights groups say the law, part of a conservative course taken by Putin in his third term as president, has resulted in a surge of homophobic sentiment and violence against homosexuals in Russia.
The United Nations General Assembly urged Moscow earlier this month “to promote social inclusion without discrimination”.
Putin has said there is no discrimination of homosexuals in Russia.
Russia's sports minister appeared to say, in remarks published this week, that it might have been wiser to wait until after the Winter Olympics to pass the law.
“One could have calculated the impact it would cause in the West, especially ahead of the Sochi Olympics,” Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was quoted as saying by rbc.ru website. “The leadership could possibly have put ... [it] on hold.”