RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 20, 2014

TODAY: Putin pulls ‘my friends are gay’ card, links homosexuality and pedophilia; gay rights protester detained for unfurling rainbow flag at pre-Olympics event; anniversary of Baburova and Markelov murder; Putin speaks out about Scotland, denies corruption as Islamist group issues threat; no visa-free travel plans, says E.U.; Snowden in cahoots with FSB?

President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure upcoming Olympics athletes and spectators that gay visitors to Russia will not face any discrimination during the Games, that he has no anti-gay prejudice, and even that he is on ‘friendly terms’ with some gay people.  But he defended the law against ‘homosexual propanda’, saying that it does not harm anyone, and urged the LGBT community to ‘please, leave the children in peace.’  He also drew an explicit connection between the gay community and Russia’s declining population, saying ‘anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up’ – using, as the Washington Post pointed out, ‘a word usually reserved for military operations’.  By conflating homosexuality with pedophilia and and drug abuse, the Kremlin’s official line amounts to gaybashing, says Libby Purves.  Russia’s gay rights campaigners say Putin is a liar.  A gay rights protesters was detained for unfurling a rainbow flag to greet the Olympic torch relay in Voronezh.  Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the murder of ‘brave and inspiring’ antinationalist journalist Anastasia Baburova, who was killed with lawyer Stanislav Markelov in Moscow in 2009.

Putin also denied that any large-scale corruption had been carried out during Games preparation.  Despite a newly-released video threat from an Islamic militant group threatening to attack the Sochi Olympics, President Putin says he is confident that terrorism will not impact the Games, urging Russians not ‘to show weakness, to show our fear’, lest they ‘help the terrorists achieve their goals’.  An E.U. official says there are currently no further plans to work towards visa-free travel with Russia due to concerns about human rights and corruption.  Net capital outflow estimates for 2013 have risen to $62.7 billion.  Putin has given his verdict on… Scottish independence.

The country’s NGOs have been allocated almost $81 million of this year’s federal budget.  A vague rumour is stirring of secret ties between NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Russian intelligence.

PHOTO: A Russian Orthodox Christian takes a dip in an icy pond during Orthodox Epiphany celebrations in the village of Strelna outside St. Petersburg January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev