NZ Herald 13 December 2013
President Vladimir Putin cast Russia as a defender of conservative values against the “genderless and infertile” Western tolerance that he said equates good and evil.
Putin’s state-of-the nation address also contained a strong warning to those abroad who he claimed were seeking a military edge over Russia – a clear nod at the US effort to develop long range non-nuclear weapons that Russia sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
The president also announced a sweeping crackdown on Russian offshore companies to bring billions of dollars home.
Putin’s 70-minute speech marked a determined effort to burnish Russia’s image that has been dented by Western criticism of an anti-gay law which has stoked calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin’s pet project.
“Many countries today are reviewing moral norms and erasing national traditions and distinctions between nationalities and cultures,” Putin said.
“The society is now required to demonstrate not only the sensible recognition of everyone’s right to freedom of conscience, political outlook and private life, but also the mandatory recognition of the equivalence of good and evil, no matter how odd that may seem.”
Russia has insisted that a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional relations” does not discriminate against gays, but gay rights group say it has given a green light to harassment and intimidation.
Without directly referring to the anti-gay law, Putin focused on upholding traditional family values, which he said were the foundation of Russia’s greatness and a bulwark against “so-called tolerance – genderless and infertile”.
He argued that the “destruction of traditional values from the top” going on in other countries is “inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people”.
Putin’s posture as a protector of conservative values and his scathing criticism of the West have been part of efforts to shore up his domestic support base of blue-collar workers, farmers and state employees against mounting criticism from the urban middle class.
This speech was also pitched to conservatives worldwide.