AP Image - Russian President Vladimir Putin
(USA TODAY) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that gay visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics next month in Sochi should feel comfortable, but should "just leave kids alone."
His remarks, during a meeting with a group of volunteers at the Olympic mountain venue at Krasnaya Polyana, appeared to be an attempt to address international concern over Russia's tough stance against homosexuality.
"We have no ban on the nontraditional forms of sexual intercourse among people," Putin said in remarks carried by the Interfax news service. "We have the ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia. I want to stress this: propaganda among minors. These are two absolutely different things: a ban on certain relations or the propaganda of such relations."
His televised remarks came during a Q-and-A session to wish volunteers success at the Games, which begin Feb. 7.
Putin said there would be no discrimination against gay visitors at the Olympics.
"One can feel calm and at ease," he said. "Just leave kids alone, please."
The phrase, spoken in Russian, is also translated as "feel calm, at ease, but leave children in peace, please,"
Putin asserted that the question of legalizing pedophilia has been discussed in some countries.
"There is nothing secret about it, look it up on the Internet and you'll find it straightaway," he said. "Parties have raised the issue with certain parliaments. So what, are we supposed to shuffle behind them like puppies toward unknown consequences? We have our own traditions, our own culture, we treat all our partners with respect and ask for our traditions and our culture to be treated with respect as well."
In addition, a senior cleric from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely allied to Putin, called this month for a national debate on returning a Soviet-era law repealed in 1993 that criminalized gay sex.
International concern about discrimination of gays at the Games was raised after a law against disseminating homosexual propaganda to minors was passed by the Russian Duma, or parliament, last summer. In response, Russian authorities reassured visitors, but also placed limits on the right to protest during the Sochi competition.
At one point on Friday, a volunteer asked the Russian leader why, if there is a law against gay propaganda, the uniforms worn by volunteers at this year's Games are in rainbow colors, an international symbol of gay rights.
Don't ask him, Putin responded, "I didn't design the uniform.".