A Russian media group linked to a close associate of President Vladimir Putin has produced an antigay political ad ahead of a vote on constitutional amendments that would open the door for the former KGB lieutenant colonel to remain in power until 2036.
The video, which was produced by Patriot Media Group and began airing this week on social media, shows a young boy’s disappointment upon learning that his new adopted mother is actually a makeup-wearing gay man, who immediately presents the child with a dress.
Upon observing the interaction between the boy and the man, an elderly woman working at the orphanage spits on the ground in disgust.
"Is this the Russia you will choose? Decide the future of the country. Vote for the amendments to the constitution," a voiceover says at the end of the ad as the gay couple hugs.
Putin's ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is commonly referred to as "Putin’s chef” because of his catering business, heads Patriot's board of trustees. He has been sanctioned by the United States for his role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The video, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of views online, has been criticized for its homophobic message.
"There is nothing worse than an orphanage for a child. A gay or lesbian couple who can give care, warmth and love is heaven and earth compared with life in an orphanage," a popular Moscow-based blogger who goes by the name Ksenia Dukalis said in an Instagram post that received nearly 100,000 likes.
"If a government or organization which films such a thing really cared about children, they would know this," she said.
Aleksei Navalny, a popular opposition figure, said in a tweet that Russian officials "have gone completely crazy" about the theme of homosexuality.
Nikolai Stolyarchuk, the head of Patriot, rejected the notion that the ad was attacking members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
"The main idea is not a fight with the LGBT community, rather to protect the institution of the family as the union of a man and woman,” Stolyarchuk said.
Russians will go to the polls on July 1 to vote for a series of amendments to the constitution that would reset Putin’s previous presidential term count back to zero, allowing him to run again in 2024 and 2030.
The amendments also include a passage defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus enshrining the country's ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution
It also includes declaring the Russian language as the state language and outlawing the "falsification of history.”
The amendments can only be approved altogether or not at all.
Since returning to the presidency in 2012, Putin has promoted a “traditional values” agenda, including by adopting a law criminalizing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.”
The law has caused many LGBT people in Russia to leave the country.
Aleksandr Filimonenko, who played one of the gay men in the political ad, said he did not know how the video was going to be used.
Filimonenko said he simply accepted the role for two videos, one of which has yet to be aired.
The voiceover calling on citizens to vote for the constitutional amendments was added after the video was shot, he said, adding that he would vote against the proposed changes to the constitution.