Vladimir Putin has promised gay visitors to the Sochi Winter Olympics they will have nothing to fear in Russia, but warned them to "leave children alone" as he defended a controversial ban on promoting homosexuality to juveniles.
The Russian president's comments came during a meeting with Olympic volunteers.
When asked how the rainbow design -- widely used by homosexual rights groups around the world -- of volunteers' uniforms at Sochi could be compatible with a ban on "homosexual propaganda", he said: "We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships.
"We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are completely different things -- a ban on something, or a ban on such relationships or a ban on propaganda of such relationships."
He said Russia was much more liberal than other countries, claiming several American states still criminalised homosexual relationships.
"We haven't banned anything and no one is being grabbed off the street unlike in some countries," said Mr Putin. "So you will feel quite secure, at ease, but leave kids alone, please," he said. His remarks are likely to infuriate homosexual rights campaigners. Several world leaders have declined to attend the games or have downgraded their delegations in protest at a law passed last year banning the promotion of "non-traditional" relationships, amid a Kremlin effort to reposition itself as a guardian of "traditional" values.
Mr Putin insisted Russia would continue to defend its traditional values against the slippery slope of liberalism that he claimed had led some countries to consider legalising paedophilia.
"It's not a secret, look on the internet and you'll find [the countries in question] straight away," he said. "Parties have raised the question in several parliaments. Should we follow them like lapdogs toward unknown consequences? We have our own traditions, our own culture, and we ask our partners to respect them."
Last week, the Russian foreign ministry issued a report on human rights in the EU in which it accused EU states of "aggressively" pushing recognition of same-sex relationships on other countries. While Mr Putin has consistently defended the law simply as a measure to protect children, rights activists say it has stoked homophobia.(© Daily Telegraph, London)