Thursday Putin made an unusual gesture by addressing several of his critics publicly at a forum. No great wealth of information or hopeful news came from the meeting; however several of his aides did hint that opposition members could now run for office without fear of arrest. Putin criticized America’s role in Syria and implied that the recent chemical weapons strikes were quite possibly a ruse to incite intervention against The Asaad regime. Putin dismissed allegation of homophobia and defended Russia’s recent anti-gay laws. Putin said that they were to protect the youth and that his country did not discriminate against sexual minorities, but that the rights of the majority had to be respected. The Russian president also implied that he plans to run, again, for another six-year term in 2018.
Putin claims that Russia is not “anti-gay” nor that their new policies, which forbid the spread of “homosexual propaganda,” are homophobic or discriminatory. Merely that they are necessary to preserve the sanctity of his nation and that “homosexual marriages just don’t produce the children that Europe and Russia needs right now to avoid a demographic collapse.” These new “propaganda” laws basically prohibit the open discussion of homosexuality, the ban parades or gatherings, and any violation of these laws is met with harsh sentences in labor camps. While these laws are not demanding outright execution as the world has seen in Uganda, they are still quite dangerous. These new laws seek to further marginalize and repress a sexual minority that is already struggling with rampant acts of violence and homophobia. These laws can be seen as the government passively endorsing such hate crimes and encouraging violence to continue against these people.
In the Russia of the 21st Century, suppression and silence is the law of the land. Many eyes are on Putin and his country as it continues to follow a path that many see as descending into totalitarianism much like the Soviet Union before it. Political dissidents and members of the opposition party have been routinely arrested and jailed on what are widely believed to be false charges on everything from prostitution to extortion. The administration has sought to discredit opposition by labeling its members bold enough to run for office as “corrupt.” In a rare show on Thursday, Putin’s aides acknowledged this trend and bluntly told critics at the forum that they would in fact be allowed to run for office without fear of reprisal or repression, as long as they didn't set their sights too lofty. In fact, the opposition members were told to run for Mayor, and nothing more.