During a three-hour meeting with 200 academics and politicians from around the world, Putin suggested that the use of chemical weapons in an attack in Syria last month had been a clever ploy designed to discredit President Bashar al-Assad’s government and trigger a retaliatory strike. Russia had no special interest in Syria, he said, referring to its support for Assad over the past two years ; in opposing a U.S. plan for a strike, it was simply upholding international law, which requires U.N. Security Council authorization for the use of force.
Putin defended a new Russian law perceived as anti-gay, saying it protects minors. He spoke dismissively of political correctness and said same-sex marriages do not produce the children that Russia and European countries need to ward off demographic disaster.
He asserted that Russia does not infringe on the rights of sexual minorities. “I present these people with public awards all the time if they deserve them,” he said, adding, “We need to respect minorities, but we need to respect majorities as well.”
And, he said, he has not ruled out running for another six-year presidential term in 2018.
Putin arrived here on the fourth day of a Kremlin-supported conference dedicated to discussing Russia’s role in the world and what it should be. It was the 10th year of what’s known as the Valdai Discussion Club, which returned to its origins at a government resort in the wooded lake lands of Valdai, about 250 miles northwest of Moscow.
Putin was in the best form he has ever been in at Valdai, said Angela Stent, a Georgetown University scholar. She said he gave the impression that things are going well both domestically and in foreign policy and that he plans to stay in power for a long time.
The Valdai conferences have served as a venue for Putin to explain Russia to specialists from abroad. In other years, members of the Russian opposition have attended some events but have not been included in meetings with Putin and other high-level officials.
On Thursday, three of them were called on for questions. The day before, they had gotten some encouraging news after months of ever-harsher treatment. Kremlin officials had informed them they were now permitted to run for any local office without fear of detention. They’re allowed to be mayors — but nothing higher.
Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the national parliament who has moved into opposition in the past two years, had put the question Wednesday to Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff. “If we run for office, will we be in jail after a year?” he asked. It’s fine to run for mayor, Volodin answered, according to Ponomarev and others at the meeting, but stay away from gubernatorial races.