Russian President Vladimir Putin again attacked Western liberalism in a fiery address on Thursday, blasting so-called cancel culture and advances in gay and transgender rights.
Some Westerners believe “the aggressive deletion of whole pages of their own history, reverse discrimination against the majority in the interests of minorities … constitute movement toward public renewal,” Putin said. “It’s their right, but we are asking them to steer clear of our home. We have a different viewpoint.”
Putin, who told the Financial Times of London newspaper in 2019 that liberalism had become “obsolete,” has loudly advocated for what he considers to be traditional family values. In his Thursday remarks, he said the notion that children are “taught that a boy can become a girl and vice versa” is monstrous and “on the verge of a crime against humanity.”
He also suggested that transgender rights supporters were demanding an end to “basic things such as mother, father, family or gender differences.”
The authoritarian leader has sought to portray himself as a symbol of virile masculinity — for instance, by being photographed shirtless on horseback — while ramping up a state-led pressure campaign on sexual minorities in Russia.
Putin rules a country where there have been numerous credible reports of the torture and imprisonment of gay men. In 2013, he signed an anti-“gay propaganda” law that Human Rights Watch said prompted increased hostility toward LGBTQ communities and made it harder for children to access information about nontraditional relations.
The effect has been particularly profound in schools, where some Russian teachers characterize LGBTQ people “as a symptom of perversion imported from Western Europe or North America,” the rights watchdog said.
Putin’s rhetoric is not dissimilar to those of many right-wing populist leaders in Eastern Europe and the United States, who have targeted sexual minorities in an attempt to shore up support.
The Thursday remarks reflect efforts to rally “hardcore conservatives and supporters of traditional values” around Putin, wrote Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the Moscow-based R.Politik think tank, on a Telegram channel.
“This ideological spin, which is becoming more and more official and concrete, is the main aid to repressions, much stronger than any election,” she said.
Putin is trying to show that he “stands for values that will not divide society and throw it into chaos,” said Matthew Sussex, a Russia expert at the Australian National University. “On the one hand, it’s a unifying message. But on the other hand, it does hit … the transgender and gay communities that the Russian government has continued to target.”
Despite the attack on liberal values, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the speech should not affect Russia’s relationship with Western countries.
“Russia has been, is and will be an integral part of Europe,” he said.
Meanwhile, asked by former Trump adviser Christian Whiton on Thursday to comment on the likelihood of the former president seeking the White House again in 2024, Putin initially demurred.
Instead, he asked the adviser who his choice would be. When Whiton said Trump, Putin responded with a smile and said, “I understand you.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia conducted a sweeping and unprecedented campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Putin has denied any involvement.
Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed reporting.