President Vladimir Putin has attacked homophobic US laws while saying Russia ensures equal rights to all LGBT people.
The Russian leader made the unexpected comments during an interview with on Sunday (September 27) night.
He claimed that homophobia in Russia has been “deliberately exaggerated”, before attacking the United States and the anti-gay laws that he says still exist there.
The former KGB agent argued that some states in the US still have laws that criminalise homosexuality, before claiming that similar Soviet laws no longer existed.
“The problem of sexual minorities in Russia had been deliberately exaggerated from the outside for political reasons, I believe, without any good basis,” he told CBS.
“It’s well known that in four states in America, homosexual orientation is a crime,” he said – even thought the laws in question were scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2003.
“It’s not completely removed from American legislation, but we don’t have. I definitely condemn that.”
Mr Putin then went on to say that he does not believe in the persecution of any minority – including the LGBT community.
He also claimed that Russia allows “people of non-traditional sexual orientation” to “live in peace.”
“I believe there should not be any criminal prosecution or any other prosecution or infringement of people’s rights on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation.”
“We have no persecution at all,” he added.
“People of non-traditional sexual orientation work, they live in peace, they get promoted, they get state awards for their achievements in science and arts or other areas.
“I personally have awarded them medals.”
However, the leader was forced to defend his country’s controversial gay “propaganda” law – which bans the “promotion” of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors – that he signed in 2013.
Just this month, the law saw five online LGBT youth support groups added to a banned list by the Russian watchdog.
“I don’t see anything un-democratic in this legal act,” he said.
He argued that, rather than suppress individuality and freedom, the law – authored by the openly homophobic Vitaly Milonov – protects minors in Russia, allowing them to “realise who they are for themselves.”
“I believe we should leave kids in peace,” he said.
“We should give them a chance to grow, help them to realise who they are and decide for themselves.”
“Do they consider themselves a man or a woman? A female? A male? Do they want to live in a normal, natural marriage or a non-traditional one?
“That’s the only thing I wanted to talk about.”
Although many have welcomed the leader’s move, others have argued that the rhetoric used during the interview reveals a blatant homophobia – with words like “natural” and “normal” used to describe heterosexual relationships.
In addition, Putin recently awarded Milonov with the state’s highest civilian honour, raising further doubts that his comments are to be taken seriously.
“I don’t see here any infringement on the rights of gay people,” Putin concluded.
“In Russia, there are equal rights for everyone. Including for people of non-traditional sexual orientations as well.”
Last week, the Kremlin confirmed that Putin has agreed to meet with Sir Elton John for real – after the singer was fooled by a prankster.
The veteran singer, who has a large following in Russia, fell victim to a hoax earlier this month after he asked President Putin to meet with him to discuss his country’s LGBT rights.