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Elton John Says Putin Called Him, Kremlin Denies The Claim

The Kremlin has denied that Vladimir Putin (left) called British singer Elton John (right) this week, but said that the Russian President would "ready to meet" with him if a request was made.
The Kremlin has denied that Vladimir Putin (left) called British singer Elton John (right) this week, but said that the Russian President would "ready to meet" with him if a request was made.

Elton John and Vladimir Putin don't see eye-to-eye on many things: first and foremost, the rights of sexual minorities in Russia since Moscow enacted a controversial law banning gay "propaganda" two years ago.

Now there's another point of contention: whether the Putin actually telephoned the gay British rock star and discussed a face-to-face meeting.

John raised more than a few eyebrows this week when he announced on Instagram that he and Putin had chatted on the telephone.

"Thank you to President Vladimir Putin for reaching out and speaking via telephone with me today," John wrote in the September 14 post. "I look to forward to meeting with you face-to-face to discuss LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] equality in Russia."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, later told Russian news agencies that there was no such phone call.

"Putin did not have a conversation with Elton John, and, what's more, we have not received any requests from him for a meeting," Peskov was quoted as saying on September 15.

"The president has always been open to discuss human rights issues," Peskov added. "The president, I'm sure, will be ready to meet with Elton John, too, if there is such a request."

On September 15, John's publicist, Gary Farrow, confirmed the content of the Instagram post, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Official attitudes toward gay rights in Russia have taken a decidedly negative tone in recent years. The Kremlin was resoundingly criticized by many Western nations ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics for the law that made it illegal to spread "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships" among minors.

Last week, the Kremlin awarded Vitaly Milonov, an antigay lawmaker in St. Petersburg whose municipal legislation was the foundation for the national law, a prestigious medal for "service to the Fatherland."

News of the award, issued by decree on September 8, went largely unnoticed by Russian media until several days later.

In comments published on September 15 in the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Milonov challenged John to a public debate about LGBT rights. He criticized what he called the "unviability of [the gay] community, which is breaking traditional principles, values, and morals."

'Mountain Out Of A Molehill'

John regularly performs concerts in Russia, where he enjoys considerable popularity. At a concert in St. Petersburg in November, he spoke out about the issue of gay rights in Russia, and in particular the removal of a statue of an iPhone dedicated to the U.S. computer giant Apple.

Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook, is openly gay, and the company who sponsored the monument told Russian media that the monument was removed to avoid violating the gay "propaganda" law. A spokesman for the university where the statue was placed later said it had been slated for repairs.

Because Cook is gay, "does that also make iPads gay propaganda?!" John was quoted as saying in a post on his official Facebook page. "Is Tchaikovsky's beautiful music 'sexually perverting'?!"

​"As a gay man, I've always felt so welcome here in Russia," John was quoted as saying. "If I'm not honest about who I am, I couldn't write this music. It's not gay propaganda. It's how I express life. If we start punishing people for that, the world will lose its humanity."

Putin has insisted that the gay "propaganda" legislation he signed into law is not discriminatory. In a September 2013 interview with AP and the state-run Channel One television station, he suggested that critics of the law were "making a mountain out of a molehill."

"Here, they say that Tchaikovsky was gay. It's true that that we love him not for that but because he was a great musician and we all love his music. And so what?" Putin said. "There's no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill; there's nothing scary or terrible happening here in our country."

The sexual orientation of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of Russia's -- and the world's -- greatest classical composers, has been openly speculated about since his death in 1893. Many historians have concluded that he was gay.

Asked if he had or would meet with gay activists, Putin said: "I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes."

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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