Full 'This Week' Interview Transcript: Russian President Vladimir Putin
Below is a full "This Week" interview transcript with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It has been independently translated by ABC News.
PUTIN: It seems to me you know everything about the Olympics. I don't even know what else I could tell you. Or you think that you know everything, and it's unlikely I'll be able to convince you to think differently about anything. But if there is indeed a chance, then please, it'll be my pleasure to converse with you.
ED HULA: For the past 8 years that I have been coming here, I've seen an extraordinary change. New stadiums, arenas, this fantastic biathalon venue, the railroad up here to the mountains. There's been an enormous investment here, in Sochi, in Russia to prepare for these Olympic Games. Estimates say 50 billion dollars, we've never really seen an accurate figure as to how much it cost. How much have the Olympics cost to bring to Russia and is it worth it? What is the payback to Russia from this experience?
PUTIN: The total amount the Olympics have cost to prepare for is known, it's RUR 214 billion. You can use today's exchange rate to divide that number by 33 to arrive at the number you're asking about in USD equivalent. However I would like to start my answer to this question with something else, namely that even before the Olympics, in 2006-7, we approved a plan for developing Greater Sochi as a resort destination. If you were to look at a map of the Russian Federation you would see that these days this is a country with primarily Northern territories. Over 70% of our land has been categorized, or can be categorized as Northern, or even Extreme North. In the South, we have a narrow strip of a warm sea, the Black Sea, and overall, we don't have that many areas in this country that feature favorable, warm climates. Across this vast territory, we virtually didn't have a single modern resort available to Russian citizens.
Today, we hold the record for visiting other countries while on vacation. Russians, I think account for the single largest group of tourists visiting Turkey, for instance. Last year, over 3 million Russians made trips to Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey is approximately in the same climate zone as the Black Sea Coast. So, we faced a big challenge in building up the infrastructure in this particular province of the Russian Federation. Once again, an appropriate program was adopted. However, as it always happens, both in Russia and in any other country, there is always a shortage of funds, even for things that seem to be top priority. When it comes to resort development, and this is a subject that never appears to have top priority, there is a chronic shortage of funds. That is why, essentially, we combined a number of goals. First, and most important, is to develop this country's South, above all infrastructure development. I think this is where we have succeeded, because brand new transport infrastructure has been put in place, energy and environmental infrastructure as well. Comparing discharge of air pollutants in 2007 and today, then following completion of the project ??? and it is virtually completed already ??? discharge of pollutants in the atmosphere were halved. This was achieved by us switching power production to a greener fuel, laid down two gas pipelines, built two new power plants, eight or nine substations, destroyed two dumps in the Greater Sochi area which had previously been emanating smoke non-stop, and we built a new transport infrastructure. All of this has reduced the environmental impact. You will agree that it is an extremely important development for a resort.
The other goal we set for ourselves was to restore training facilities for Russia's high level athletes. Following the collapse of the USSR, Russia was left virtually without training facilities at middle altitude areas. They all ended up abroad, either in Georgia or in Armenia. And, partially, in Kazakhstan if we factor in the Medeo ice skating rink. So, and this is something that is ridiculous and embarrassing to reveal, our speed skaters were forced to hold a national speed skating championship in Berlin. That's because there weren't any skating rinks available. Also, we completely lost everything as far as jumps, jump-based sports. We have since built several centers, not only in Sochi. Although, these two jumps we've built in Sochi are unique from the technical perspective. As part of the preparation for the Olympics, we've built the world's most modern jumps in other provinces of Russia. Finally, we wanted to create a brand new high altitude tourist cluster in order to turn this particular RF region into a year-round resort that would operate in winter and in the summer. I think we've succeeded in doing that as well. That is why, if we were to look exclusively at what it cost to prepare for the Olympics the number is RUR 214 billion. Out of those, by the way, only 15 facilities are sports-related while the rest is infrastructure. The number could be more if one were to calculate certain things that have to do with adjacent infrastructure but that isn't directly related to the Olympic Games.
SERGEI BRILEV : Vladimir Vladimirovich, you have just described the jump as unique, but its uniqueness is not limited to sports or technology but also, it is unlikely foreigners are aware of your words: "Where is Comrade Bilalov here?" during your visit to the jump and, so to speak, a suggestion as to how and what can work. Bilalov was punished then, and punished hard, with the entire country to see. Did the others get scared and did they keep their promises? What is your impression?
PUTIN: You know, I would like first to finish answering Ed's question. Out of RUR 214 billion, about RUR 100 billion is government money. The rest of the money was provided by private companies. The bulk of it was invested of course in hotel infrastructure. By the way, we have created about 40, 41 or 43 thousand brand new hotel beds. In the context of resort development, this is an extraordinarily important development. These goals were achieved using funds provided by domestic companies. This is private investment. As far as the fact that some people didn't perform certain things on time, you know, you and I understand that the Sochi project, the Sochi Olympic project has been, over the last few years, the world's biggest construction site. This is no exaggeration. This is the world's largest construction site. Of course, given the scale and, let's be honest about it, given the lack of experience of construction on such a vast scale in this country, in today's Russia, of course setbacks were inevitable. Of course, some talking to had to be done, both about prices and about schedules and about quality. How else? It can't be done otherwise. If you walk around and give nothing but praise to everyone you'll never have any results.
My job isn't limited to handing out awards, although that, too, is part of my job description, but, mostly in facilitating our achieving certain results. This is rough work, a daily effort. Where in the world have you seen construction people who do everything on time, with good quality and at minimal prices? Just give me one country like that. A country like that doesn't exist in the world, you know. There's not one such country anywhere in the world. We can see everywhere attempts at inflating the cost of facilities, in Europe, in North America, in Asia, it's the same everywhere. However this is routine tug of war between the customer, the State in this case, or a private customer that built hotels here, and implementers, contractors. Contractors always want to make more money; customers always want to get a good quality product on time and for less money. There is always this tug of war. It's a normal situation. Obviously, there is a line, which, when crossed, involves wrongdoing, but this is something for law-enforcement to keep an eye on. And they did it here, in a no nonsense way. We tried to make sure that no one crossed that line. On the whole, I think, we've succeeded at that. As far as that specific occurrence, yes, it's true, the Savings Bank picked up the project subsequently and completed it, and did it with high quality and in a modern way. There is not another jump facility like this one anywhere in the world.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The International Olympic Committee has said that the corruption problem has actually been massive, he said it's an everyday matter up to $18 million embezzled. Is he right, and what can be done about it?
PUTIN: No, not true. First of all, the Swiss man didn't say that. Of course we do take an interest in what they say about us internationally, especially our partners in the Olympic movement. I looked, I looked at the transcript of his meeting with the reporter. Your fellow reporters tried to get him to cover this subject. And I do appreciate that it is a reporter's job to always try and get sexy subjects to be talked about. However the Swiss expert, as far as I understand, he's the president of the Skiing Federation, he didn't say that. That was my impression based on the transcript. That's first. Second is this: if anyone has specific information about 'signs of corruption' in regard to the implementation of the Sochi Olympics project, we ask for objective data to be given to us. We will be glad and we will be grateful and we will use that information to set the house in order in that area. What does 'signs of corruption' mean? As applied to this particular situation, that would refer to embezzlement of public funds using government officials in whose hands those funds ended up. If anyone has such information please give it to us. I'll say it again - we'll appreciate it. But so far no one has given us anything except for talk. Like, we understand, we know and we're even used to it. There are always some forces that always fight everything, including the Olympic project. I don't know their reasons but maybe it's their profession, maybe it's their world outlook, someone has offended them badly. But, if there is objective information give it to us please as soon as possible. So far there is none, no one's given us any. Our law-enforcement agencies have been working in this area. There have been precedents. I've already covered that. A few years back, local bureaucrats here attempted to sell land; land that was designated for Olympic facilities. An investigation was conducted and those individuals have been convicted in a Russian court of law and are doing time.
So far we are not seeing any major, large-scale 'signs of corruption' as part of the implementation of the Sochi project. What there is what I've already mentioned - namely, contractors' attempts at price- gouging. But, once again, this is something that happens in every single country. Our goal, in the meantime, is to bring it [the price] down while making sure that the quality of project implementation is high and that construction stays on schedule. There is always that struggle, you see, and we always talk about it in public and in this sense, we always even give fodder, if you will, to those rumors about 'signs of corruption'. So, what are we to do? Either to always keep mum about it, or not to worry about this kind of response and to work openly. We've chosen option number two - to work in the open. If we can see that there are some kinds of problems somewhere we talk about it in public. That, I guess, sums up my comment on this subject. So far, I do not see any serious signs of corruption at this time. However there is the matter of construction volumes being inflated. You know I could also offer this comment here. What does such inflation of construction volumes have to do with? When bidders compete against one another at tenders, then bidders for the right to implement a project, construct a facility, they often deliberately understate the project cost in their value proposal only to win the tender. Once they've won the tender they understand that they cannot deliver at the price specified then the increases begin. But then again, this is something that happens virtually everywhere. In this sense, we are not unique. One could talk about how well tenders are conducted. That probably would be appropriate. But this price increase is sometimes linked to a contractor's deliberate conduct but sometimes it is the result of an insufficiently professional estimate of investments required, especially in a mountainous setting, in the context of a mountainous cluster. The Caucasus Mountains are young and there are a host of problems here having to do with seismic, slides, etc. Indeed, those things have on occasion not been estimated competently and on time in setting the initial project price. These are working issues, but this is not corruption.
ANDREW MARR: Mr. President, at the moment, an awful lot of British people who are thinking about going skiing will consider France or Switzerland or Austria. Do you want to persuade them to come to Russia instead and if you do, how much a problem is the visa issue? I know you have a problem with the European Union, is there anything you can do unilaterally to help people who want to come on holiday to Sochi in the future?
PUTIN: As far as visitors to the Sochi Olympics, we have made a unique decision. It is unique in that visitors to the Olympics, tourists that come to the Olympics, can come to Sochi, to the Olympics, without a visa. They would only need to be accredited. To obtain accreditation, we have opened designated windows in all our diplomatic missions. No visa is needed. That's one. Two is that we believe that we have created something unique, even scale wise, there are 150 kilometers worth of ski slopes alone that have been built here over the last few years. And, I've already mentioned it, over 40,000 hotel beds have been made available. Probably a lot still needs to be done to upgrade the quality of service but, on the whole, a very good physical infrastructure has been created to host a large-scale world class tourist destination. I think many people will find it very interesting to see; even those who'll be unable to come for the Olympics, people would still be interested in seeing what it is that Sochi, which hosted the Olympics, is like. There is always an international interest in places where Olympic Games were held. So, we would be happy if winter sports buffs start coming to Sochi to see for themselves what Russia has done here, how it implemented this project. And if anyone likes it maybe it'll become a recurring vacation destination for our friends from the US or from Europe, or from Asian nations, including China. Why not? Also, those who like mountain sports they like visiting different places and they will enjoy going to Canada, the US, then Switzerland or Italy, France. I hope they'll come to Sochi. Now, concerning visas. We have been providing exceptions that apply to certain tourist destinations. For example, tourists travelling by water do not need a visa to visit St. Petersburg for a certain period of time. There are some other exceptions as well. However those are precisely what they are ??? exceptions. The general regime is as follows: all matters of visa-based or non-visa travel are dealt with on the basis of mutuality all over the world. We would like it very much if we could agree with our counterparts in the EU on visa-free travel. I have talked about it on many occasions. For instance, the EU has non-visa travel arrangements with many nations in Latin America, where the crime situation is not better than, and, on some occasions, is even much more acute than in the Russian Federation. Now, look at the distance between Latin America and Europe and then at where Europe is vis-??-vis Russia. Europe and Russia are next door to one another. That is why, I think, we should agree on visa-free travel overall. As far as some kind of exceptions for individual events, that is something that we could talk about.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you spent three days in Sochi in early December to inspect how ready Olympic facilities were. You then said that it is not the time to talk about what has been done but, instead, it is time to talk about what yet needs to be done. There was some unfinished work, and things needed to be polished. So, now, has everything been done? What kind of reports have you been getting? Where did the work go more difficult and what else is left to do, if anything?
PUTIN: Everything has been done. Things need to be cleaned up. The hotel operations need to be fine-tuned, construction equipment needs to be removed, along with construction debris, in other words, the same kind of preparation needs to be done as a host would do before welcoming guests so that everything will look nice and match the spirit of the event. All the facilities are ready. As you know, we have held many pilot competitions using those facilities, including World Cup stages, and other major international meets. Athletes, visitors, experts have been pleased on the whole and commented on a high degree of readiness even a year ago. By now all the facilities have been completed.
Untranslated question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN: First of all, I would like to ask you to convey my very best wishes to all of my friends in China, both through social media and through other mass media. I know that I have a lot of friends in China. It is no accident because we [Russia] and China have a special relationship and I have special feelings for China. China is a great country with a great culture, populated by fascinating, industrious and talented people. Please convey my vast gratitude to them for their attitude. The feeling is mutual. Now, concerning investors. Investors, we would welcome investors from any nation, including from China, and China does have a vast investment potential. China of course holds the world's largest gold and FX reserves. China has created very good investment tools, including an entire network of very large funds. The Russian Private Investment Fund works with some of those funds, with China's largest investment funds. They already have joint projects. As a rule, foreign investors have a fairly hard time to identify the most effective areas for using their capital; effective and, at the same time, reliably protected. They often do so in cooperation with relevant national entities. Just such an entity, I've just mentioned it, the Russian Private Investment Fund, it works with Chinese partners. It is free to work in any region of the Russian Federation and in any industry. If Chinese partners were to show an interest in a tourist cluster in Russia's south or, say, an agricultural cluster; and, here, in the Krasnodar Territory, in the Stavropol Territory, which are adjacent to this region, in the Rostov Region, they are our breadbaskets as we refer to them. These are regions that emphasize and focus on developing agricultural production. They boast an excellent climate. In some of those areas, such as the Rostov Region that is adjacent to the Krasnodar Territory, it has an established machine-building industry, an aviation cluster is evolving. We and our Chinese friends have promising, joint, very interesting plans in many of those avenues. That is why we don't only invite them to Sochi and to the Krasnodar Territory, but we invite them to work across the entire south of the Russian Federation.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: Olympics have always, everywhere attracted extremists who seek to make a statement for the entire world to hear. Unfortunately, given the latest terror attacks and threats in Russia's south, we are forced to discuss this subject in reference to Sochi. Several agencies are working to ensure the Games' security and they have been informed that assistance has been offered both by European and US experts. What is being reported to you at this point in time regarding the scale of threats, what are we confronting already and what will we have to confront?
PUTIN: You've phrased it correctly - extremists always want to make a statement, to make their presence known, especially ahead of some major events. Not just sports events but political events as well. You know very well what kind of security measures are taken at G20 meetings or G8 meetings or for others, such as ATEC in the Asia and Pacific. The same is true of major sports events. It's a great pity. I've already commented on this subject and I'd like to say it again: People who are driven by extremism are as a rule narrow-minded individuals and they are not aware that even if they set out to achieve what they think are noble objectives they, by engaging in terror attacks, they move farther and farther away from what they think are noble objectives; they go beyond the horizon because they appear as criminals to the rest of the world, and criminals in the worst possible sense of the word, as blood-thirsty individuals who not only fail to consider human rights and liberties but who have zero respect for human life. No matter what individuals who commit such acts are guided by there will never be any justification. In the eyes of all the sober-minded people all over the world, they will always be criminals. By the same token, they cast a criminal shadow on the objectives they set out to accomplish. However the world is what it is. We remember well the tragic events during the Munich Olympics when almost the entire Israeli sports delegation was wiped out, and, since then, all countries of the world, with no exceptions, have gone to great, extraordinary lengths to ensure security. I hope that everything that we do, given our clear understanding of on-the-ground situation that is evolving around Sochi and, overall, in this whole region, we have an excellent understanding of what it is, what kind of a threat it is, how to curtail it, how to contain it. I hope that our law-enforcement agencies will rise to the occasion and handle this task with honor and dignity, just like it was when other major events were conducted, both of sports and political nature.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: I have covered, as a correspondent, several Olympics, including, most recently, the London Olympics. When we came there it turned out that on the roofs of residential buildings in North and East London, Patriot systems were set up. The initial reaction of course was one of shock, just as in response to warships moored in the bay near Greenwich. However the British Government explained: The threat is massive, we will counteract it, and this is a necessity. And this is what happened. Patriot systems were set up there. Will we see anything like that in Sochi?
PUTIN: I hope you won't see anything but all of that will be there. As far as London, we remember that during one of the G8 meetings, a series of terrorist attacks, including in the Underground system, took place. I remember who the then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was distressed about it. I remember all of us give him moral and, when necessary, special support. By the way, even now, even now, I want to thank all our partners, from North America, from the US, from Europe, from Asian nations who have been very busily cooperating with their counterparts in Russian Federation law-enforcement agencies and security services. Such joint work is being carried out actively.
Untranslated question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN: I wouldn't want terrorist attacks, crimes of this kind that seek to undermine international cooperation in both political and humanitarian areas, including in sports. [I wouldn't want them] to impact er, er, er, to impact those events. If we allow ourselves to be weak, have fear, let our fear be seen, by doing that we'll assist those terrorists in achieving their goals. I think that the international community that operates in all the areas, both humanitarian, political, economic, must consolidate its efforts in fighting such antihuman expressions as terrorist attacks, such as the murder of innocents. Our job, needless to say, the job of the Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors to this festival of sports and we will do whatever it takes.
ED HULA: President Putin: how do you provide security for the Olympics, enough security to keep everybody safe and still make it a fun joyous happy event?
PUTIN: I've already said, as I responded to a question from your colleagues, that we would try and make sure that security measures don't jump at you, are not in your face, do not put pressure on the athletes and visitors or reporters. At the same time we'll do everything within our power to make sure those measures are efficient. A total of approximately 40,000 law-enforcement personnel will be involved in providing security, as well as security services' personnel. We'll definitely take advantage of all the experience amassed in conducting similar events in other parts of the world and in other countries. That means that we'll protect the air space and the marine water area and the mountainous cluster. I hope, I hope that all of this will be organized in such a way that it won't be excessively obvious, won't put any pressure on the athletes. I'd also note that starting on January 7, 2014, a special security regime was introduced to govern movements in Greater Sochi, human traffic and cargo movements. As I said, we have around the clock headquarters to ensure security, I'd like to emphasize it once again, around the clock; and the headquarters coordinates operations by our law-enforcement and special agencies and stays in touch w/ their colleagues abroad.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The United States State Department has issued a travel advisory for all Americans heading to Sochi and some of the athletes have even set up their own evacuation plans, private security teams. Is that necessary, and are you concerned with all the security here, that the terrorists might choose to strike in other parts of Russia?
PUTIN: Russia is a vast country and, like in any other vast country, different events are taking place. We are organizing the effort at ensuring security in Sochi by bringing in numerous forces and means but primarily those that are not used to provide security elsewhere in the Russian Federation. We have adequate means available to us through the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, Armed Forces units that will be involved in providing security, as I have already mentioned, on the water and in the air. If someone believes that they should devise their own personal security plans, there is nothing wrong with that. However it must be done in contact with the Olympics organizers and with our security services. As I've already said, we have headquarters that operate around the clock and they are in touch with their colleagues in relevant services and units from foreign countries. By the way, those colleagues are represented in the headquarters. Once again, there is direct professional interaction under way. If necessary, all those tools will be activated. I hope there will be no need for that. And just like we operated fairly efficiently while holding major political events, meaning G20 and G8, conducting major international sports events such as a recent world track and field meet in Moscow. We have vast experience, while we appreciate that we have many diverse challenges to security, we have massive experience in providing security at this kind of event, and we put our experience to good use.
ANDREW MARR: Many prominent British people, Sir Ian McClellan, the actor, Elton John, many politicians have expressed a great deal of unease, unhappiness and fear about the Russian attitude to gay people. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has, and I quote accused the European Union of queer propaganda. I wonder if you're surprised by this huge row coming out just before the Olympics; and whether you think there is a fundamental difference in attitude in Russia and in the West between, to gay people and whether you also think that gay people are born not made, and therefore the question of gay propaganda is a ridiculous one?
PUTIN: You know I won't presume to answer the portion of your question about whether people are born or become gay. This lies outside the sphere of my professional interests. I wouldn't be able to offer a competent answer. And, if I'm not able to provide a competent answer then my preference is to not go there. As far as perceptions of gays here, yes, I can give you a fairly extensive answer. I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay. Unlike over one third of the world's nations. 70 of the world's nations consider homosexual behavior a crime. Seven out of the 70 use capital punishment for homosexuality. Hold on a second please. What does it mean? Does it mean we need to cancel any major sports events in those countries? Probably not.
Homosexuality used to be a crime in Russia, meaning in the Soviet Union. In Russia, it is no longer the case. In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one's religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. However a law was adopted just recently in this country that bans propaganda, and not only propaganda of homosexuality but also abuse against children, sexual abuse of children. But it has nothing to do with persecuting people for their non-traditional orientation. Those are two big differences, as they say here. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.
ANDREW MARR: What about the Russian Church people who have called for the return of criminal law against homosexual people? Do you support that? Are you horrified by it? What's your attitude?
PUTIN By law, the church is separate from the State and it is entitled to its opinion. Note that virtually all traditional world religions share the same position on this subject matter. Is the Vatican's position different from that of the Russian Orthodox Church? Does Islam treat gays any differently? It probably does. However the difference consists in that other, harsher approach. Those 70 nations I've mentioned are mostly Islamic nations. The ones that stipulate capital punishment are all countries where Islam is the State's official religion. So there's nothing unusual in the Russian Orthodox Church's position when compared to stands taken by the other traditional global religions. There's nothing unusual. Once again though, the Church's opinion is one thing; the State's opinion is another. I repeat: the Church is separate from the State.
SERGEI BRILEV: By way of an addition to this question. You know, I lucked out in my day. I met the smartest and most beautiful girl and I have been married to her for a long time and I might have the wrong orientation to freely discuss this subject but here is what happens. All the Russians that I know, I mean all the Russians that I know who are not traditional in their sexual orientation, well, maybe not 100% but the vast majority, those are individuals who have had top-notch careers, who have never ever run into any kinds of obstacles in their employment but, against the background of this law of ours, prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality among minors, an image of Russia emerges that we could be just about the most homophobic country in the world.
PUTIN: No, that image does not. Attempts are being made to create that image.
SERGEI BRILEV: Yes, I agree. Here is what I think: Could it be worth revisiting the law that there is so much ado about, ado that doesn't have much to do with either the title or the substance of the law, and amend it a little? Either along the lines that many quite heterosexual individuals would like it amended along so that there will be less sex (not sex education that children need) available to minors, whether it's straight or gay sex, it doesn't matter, or perhaps take a sharper look at this notion. Honestly, I have never come across propaganda of homosexuality among minors. I agree on the whole, but I don't even understand what the law refers to is in practical terms.
PUTIN: Do read the law carefully and look at its title. The law is called 'On Banning Propaganda of Pedophilia and Homosexuality'. 'On Banning Propaganda of Pedophilia and Homosexuality'. Some countries, including in Europe, are publicly debating - I've just talked about it at a meeting with volunteers - publicly debating the possibility of legalizing pedophilia. They're debating it publicly in parliaments. Let them do as they please. However the peoples of the Russian Federation, the Russian people have their own cultural code, their own tradition. We don't interfere, don't stick our noses in their life and we ask that our traditions and culture are treated with the same respect. My personal position is that society must keep children safe, if only to be able to reproduce, and not just through immigration, but organically.
We have achieved what we haven't had for a long time. In 2002-3-4, it seemed we would never overcome that completely horrifying situation in which we found ourselves, as far as the demographic crisis. It seemed that the demographic pit would be bottomless and we would continue to fall into it forever. That is when we devised and adopted a program to support demography, to support the birthrate in the RF. I'll be honest with you, I was concerned in a big way since we used a large amount of resources, whereas many experts told me: Don't. It's a trend. It's something that's going on in all the European nations and we can't avoid it. This year, for the first time, the number of those born has exceeded the number of the departed in Russia. We have achieved a specific positive result. If anyone wants to choose cemeteries as the focus of development they should feel free to do so, but we have different objectives. We want the Russian people and other peoples residing in the Russian Federation to develop and to have a future history. Everything that stands in our way in this regard, we must clean up but do so in modern and humane ways, without offending anyone and without turning anyone into second rate humans. It seems to me that the law that we have adopted does not hurt anyone.
Moreover, individuals of non-traditional orientation cannot feel like second-rate humans in this country because they are not discriminated against in any way, either professionally, not passed over for promotion, nor do they lack in recognition from society, by the way, as long as they accomplish outstanding achievements. Such as Elton John, for instance. He is an outstanding individual, an outstanding musician. He is loved by millions here, sincerely so, despite his orientation. His orientation is not a factor in how he is perceived, especially as an outstanding musician. I think that this, quite democratic approach to people of non-traditional orientation, along with measures to protect our children and to protect future demographic development, is optimal.
Untranslated Question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN: What is it with you?
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: We are here to talk about Sochi but instead, in the context of Sochi we are discussing this. Untranslated question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN I don't think it's a manifestation of the Cold War, but it's a manifestation of competitive struggle. When such a powerful, potentially powerful nation as China begins to demonstrate fast growth rates it becomes an actual rival both in global politics and at international markets. Of course tools are then activated designed to curb that growth. You will know that Napoleon said once, "China is asleep and, God willing, it'll sleep as long as possible." This sums up the Western civilization's traditional perception of the Orient and of China in particular. However, China has woken up. And I think that the correct scenario of building a relationship with a country as vast and as potentially powerful and great as China is searching for common interests rather than containment. I think that, with regard to Russia, too, there persist old approaches that something still needs to be contained. Going back to the subject that we are having such a hard time leaving behind here is what I'd like to say in this regard - I have mentioned that 70 nations criminally prosecute homosexuality. The US is among them! In some of the states, such as Texas, and in some others, I think in three states altogether, it remains a criminal offense. So, what, is that reason enough to not hold any international competitions there? Whatever the reason no one is discussing it. But we are being discussed even though it is not a criminal offense in this country. If it isn't an attempt at containment I don't know what is. What is it if not a relic of old thinking? And this is bad. It is twice as bad when it is applied to major international sports events, especially Olympic Games.
I know the stand assumed by many internationally renowned ??-and respected by me personally- first-tier US politicians. They believe that boycotting the Moscow Olympics, even though under a very serious pretext - the USSR sending troops to Afghanistan - even in those circumstances, the boycott was a mistake. After all, major international sports events, let alone Olympic Games, are called upon to depoliticize the most pressing international problems and to provide additional opportunities for building bridges. It is stupid not to take advantage of that opportunity. It is even more stupid to burn those bridges.
ED HULA: did you believe that President Obama inserted politics into the Olympics with the naming of Billie Jean King to lead the US delegation to the Sochi Olympics? And will you be happy to meet with Billie Jean King and the US delegation in Sochi?
PUTIN: I didn't understand what you asked about President Obama? What was the question?
ED HULA: By president Obama naming Billie Jean King and other members of the delegation from the United States to Sochi, gay athletes, do you think that inserts politics into the Olympics?
PUTIN: You know, I couldn't care less about their sexual orientation. We will welcome all athletes and all visitors to the Olympics. I was once asked by President Obama to help organize a visit here by a large US delegation, and his request was due to the fact that there was a certain limitation on the number of participants as far as relevant international, national unified teams, meaning athletes and representatives of various administrative agencies. We did it. We gave as much help as we could. You see there are also IOC rules but we did find ways of solving that problem. What I mean is that, traditionally, there are more US representatives at Olympic Games than those from other nations. They have a very large team and have very many representatives. We met them halfway and we did it. Of course I'll be glad to see representatives of any nation, including the US. There are no doubts there. That is, if they wish to do so, to talk about something, be my guest. I can't see a problem here.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama has said he is personally offended by the gay propaganda law, neither he nor his family are coming to Sochi, and he said recently that if Russia doesn't have gay or lesbian athletes, it probably means their team is weaker. And I wonder if you could respond to that and if gay or lesbian athletes engage in some sort of protest, wear a rainbow pin or some other kind of protest, will they be free from prosecution under the propaganda laws?
PUTIN: Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So if they wear a rainbow pin or kiss their partner.
PUTIN: They are close but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of homosexuality or sexual abuse of children. That's one. Two is that I'd like to ask our colleagues, my colleagues and friends that, as they try to criticize us they would do well to set their own house in order first. I did say, after all, and this is public knowledge that in some of the states in the US homosexuality remains a crime.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But the Supreme Court has struck those laws down. PUTIN: How are they in a position to criticize us for what is a much softer, liberal approach to these issues than in their own country? I know that this isn't something that can be easily done. This is so because there are a lot of folks in the US who share the view that the legislation in their state or in their nation is appropriate, well-grounded and is in sync with the sentiment of the vast majority of the population. This needs to be discussed together at some, some more acceptable forum. Shared approaches need to be devised. We hear you. My response to you is none of our guests will have any problems. We remember certain dark-skinned citizens of the US, during Olympics, major international competitions, protest against segregation. I saw it with my own eyes on TV screens. Well, this is a practice that people use to make a statement about their rights.
SERGEI BRILEV: Please allow me to revisit sports proper. PUTIN: Please.
SERGEI BRILEV: You know, I remember that when the preparations were under way for the London Olympics if one were to read the UK press it seemed that horror was descending on the UK. What followed was a wonderful sports festival. True, when I came to London [unintelligible] and repeated verbatim what London-based newspapers had published, he was immediately lashed out against by London-newspapers, something like, "Don't you dare, we'll figure things out here ourselves. We are heading towards a sports celebration." Indeed, we are headed towards a sports celebration here now. I was 8 years old when this country last hosted Olympics. I am sure that dozens of millions are now looking forward to this big event. You ski, play ice hockey. What will you follow? What events will you attend? What results do you expect from the Russian national team?
PUTIN: I've been asked this before. I can say that I will only be able to attend events on days when I am not busy with my daily work. It will not always coincide with my sports preferences. If I could visit events that I want to see I would of course see ice hockey, Alpine skiing, I would enjoy watching biathlon events and figure skating. Some of the critics of the Olympics said that there was no snow in Sochi. As if on cue, it started snowing during this interview. There is enough snow already and I hope there will be more snow. As you know mercury drops below the freezing point here at night and [snow] guns are used heavily. The necessary amounts of snow are already available. I think everything will be just fine.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I was just wondering do you care to make a friendly bet with President Obama over which country is going to win more medals: the US or Russia?
PUTIN: No. Of course not. We never make such bets. Barack is a huge sports fan and I can see it. He's in terrific shape and gives it enough of his attention. Not just to playing sports but also to promoting sports. Virtually all US Presidents, as we have seen, focus on it and have been effective in that. That is why the US team has always been impressively successful. We wish success to our US friends, US athletes. I know that, in this country, many, millions admire US athletes and love them sincerely. I would very much like it if sports were not tarnished with politics, in which case, I think, we'll all stand to benefit.
This having been said, naturally we will root for our athletes. We traditionally have produced good results in winter sports. In previous years, due to a generation change, due to, let's face it - and I did mention it - loss of training facilities, we had a decline, a drop in performance, including lackluster results in Vancouver, although we didn't embarrass ourselves there. We expect the situation to improve and the performance, including the number of medals, to improve and increase. It is important but to us, Russians, what matters much more is to create a favorable environment for the Games to be held in, to hold the Olympics a dignified manner and, what's very important, for our athletes to distinguish themselves with character and skills. As far as medals, those too are an important element of any sports event, including the Olympics. What is even more important to me is to see that our national team is capable, effective and holds promise.
ANDREW MARR: In the run up to this feast of sport, there were a lot of amnesties in Russia. Greenpeace, Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot and so on. Your critics say this is the Russian bear putting on a smile just for Sochi and that things will go back to normal afterwards. But I wonder is there an element of liberalism in the heart of the Russian bear that we'll see in the months ahead as well?
PUTIN: What kind of answer would you like to hear from me?
ANDREW MARR: I'd like you to say I'm a warm liberal president, I've changed my views and no one need to fear me in any way at all.
PUTIN: Correct. That is the case.
ANDREW MARR: That's the answer? Marvelous. Ok.
PUTIN: One more thing: We didn't pass the law on amnesty because of the Olympics. It was done to mark the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. That's one. Two is that, under our laws, the President does not make amnesty decisions. It is the exclusive prerogative of the parliament. I didn't make the amnesty decision. The parliament did. So I don't even need to wear a smile. The credit doesn't go to me. The credit goes to the members of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. However, of course I gave my support to this initiative, I believe that it was the right thing to do and, in this regard, I'd like to comment that we might just be the record-holder in the number of amnesties performed. Here, too, a certain balance needs to be struck between those who perpetrated crimes and the victims of those crimes. We talk a great deal about the situation of convicts or those under investigation - and that's the right thing to do, this is something that must never be allowed to fall through the cracks, especially so because the living conditions in correctional facilities could use improvement, both in this country and in many foreign countries. But we must never forget, put on the backburner, victims to crimes committed. The State must have a balanced attitude to these issues.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: While we have been talking here, the snow storm has picked up so much that one can't see the mountains anymore. Snow is coming down and down and it appears that Winter Olympics, just like Summer Olympics have yet another organizer ??? the weather. The weather reports lately unfortunately resembled looking at tea leaves. Unfortunately, certain models do not work. Will we modify the weather during the Sochi Games or will we hope for the fate? For instance, several days of competitions were cancelled in Turin due to fog and snowfall. Will we do anything with the weather to keep the Games on schedule?
PUTIN: No, we won't do anything. Unfortunately, we depend on Mother Nature and will continue to depend on it at all times. As you know, there is a tennis competition in progress in Australia. Some of the athletes have been fainting due to abnormally hot weather, temperatures are in excess of 40?C. Here, it has started snowing, rather unexpectedly. If there are weather conditions that do not match the standards for holding competitions, then IOC representatives will make appropriate decisions. However I hope very much that the conditions will be favorable, as suggested by many years' worth of weather observation in this particular area, observation of the weather and climate. Between early February and March, usually the weather is very comfortable for winter sports here. I hope that, despite any fluctuations, it will be the case this year as well.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: Meaning those thousands of tons of snow that have been stockpiled somewhere on the glaciers, there will be no need for them, correct?
PUTIN: At this point, they are not needed. Judging by today's situation, we can see it, they are not needed. We have them, just in case. We've seen a major international competition, a winter competition, that used a narrow strip of snow that skiers raced along, and there was green grass all around. Thank God, it is not like that here. And I hope it won't be.
Untranslated Question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN: You know there's this well-known phrase: "The more I know the better I understand that I don't know anything." I think it applies to everybody, including me. I do indeed love sports, both winter and summer sports. As far as expected results of the China team, they always have very good results, whether it's summertime or winter. China has developed a highly efficient system for training and motivating their athletes, which is very important???both training and motivation. I watched keenly the young generation of athletes being trained, the selection process, how they are worked with, psychological training as well. There is a lot to learn here. When people have strong inner motivation they achieve good results. Sure, traditionally, summer sports have been cultivated in China. There has been less focus on winter sports. However it merely depends on the settings of the mechanism. I think that if the settings have been changed or are changed soon China will become a very powerful competitor against countries that have traditionally cultivated winter sports. We expect Chinese athletes to show impressive results, expect them to not only please but surprise international winter sports buffs. And the Chinese are good at that.
ED HULA: How important is it to the success of the Sochi Olympics and your satisfaction with the Sochi Olympics for Russia to win the gold medal in ice hockey?
PUTIN: It is important. I'll be honest with you. It's not important for me, it's not important for satisfying some kind of ambitions. It's important for millions of our fans. Ice hockey has always been greatly loved in this country. Even though it is considered a Canadian sport, I think it is as much a Russian sport. We are grateful to the Canadians for inventing this game at some point. And we are grateful to those who introduced it in this country. The game is popular with millions without any exaggeration, played by hundreds of thousands, followed by millions. Of course it is always a spectacular, memorable show. Just like in other sports, and I'd like to emphasize it, of course we count on success and a victory but still the most important thing is a display of skills and character. If our fans, hockey fans see our athletes show true grit and show top-notch skills, great talent that would be the most important result. In that case, everybody will be forgiven for everything. Even in the absence of a desired outcome. However, should that outcome be achieved then of course we'll be grateful to our athletes for that result, but, once again, anticipating something, providing any assessments in advance is not a rewarding experience. We perfectly well understand that ice hockey is gaining popularity around the world and that pleases us to a great extent. It is growing more popular in Europe. The Finnish and Swedish national teams remain strong. Switzerland and Germany are getting better right in front of us, let alone the US and Canada. We'll simply be happy that these outstanding masters of the game will come to Russia and show their talent here, on our Russian land. We are very grateful to all our partners and all these remarkable top-notch players. We'll be happy to see them, welcome them, and will greatly enjoy their playing the game.
Untranslated Chinese Reporter Question
PUTIN: You know, what is the extent to which Olympics and, generally speaking, sports development in a country have to do with successful development of the nation as a whole? Of course there is a connection. Ability to achieve sports results to a significant extent is the result of economic and social policies. Russia tried to win the right to host Olympics in, I think, 1994, and in the early 2000s. However based on the state of economy, it was clear ??? even to Russian organizers, I believe ??? to the IOC that it was very difficult for Russia to host Olympics for purely economic considerations. Our GDP has virtually doubled. Population incomes have doubled. Our gold and FX reserves trail China's but are still the world's third largest, over $500 billion. We have two government reserve funds. Over the last few years we have almost had budget surpluses. Last year, we had -0.5 deficit, a negligible deficit, virtually no deficit at all. We have paid off all of our foreign debts. We have a 196 billion trade surplus, approximately. I could be off by a small amount. That is economic development; a stronger economy enables us to execute such projects. In volume, not per capita terms, but in volume, on the PPP basis, we've become the world's 5th largest economy. This is quite a result. We have our problems and they are many. Just like any other economy in the world. But we also have results. All of this enables us to tackle social issues.
Untranslated Chinese Reporter Question
PUTIN: I would very much like, during the Olympics, for the athletes, visitors, reporters and those who will follow the Olympics on TV, through the media, for people to see a new Russia, its face, its capabilities, take an unbiased, fresh look at it. I'm positive that it will produce, should produce a positive, good result and will facilitate Russia's relationship-building with its partners around the world.
ANDREW MARR: Can I follow on from that, and ask- you sound very, very confident, you've had a very powerful last year; you've been voted the third most popular man in the world, beating the Pope, and I just want to ask in the past, you said there the possibility of you standing for election again and I wonder if that possibility is maturing and hardening in your mind? You don't seem like somebody who is bored being President.
PUTIN: What I think is that one shouldn't pay any attention to those rankings. And, needless to say, no secular person can best the Pope. This is a completely one-sided comparison. The Pope heads up the world's largest nation state. It is an unofficial state. In modern parlance, one could describe it as a network state you see. But not a virtual state, it is a real state. Because there are a lot of followers of Catholicism in that country, it's $1.7 billion persons. And then it's also spiritual influence, which is more important than political influence. We have our own religious leaders in the Orthodox Church. First and foremost, it is the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill. I have great respect for him. He does a great deal to strengthen our people spiritually; and not only Orthodox Christians but by collaborating with other representatives of Russia's established religions, he helps consolidate inter-confessional and interethnic peace. Generally, in this regard, the Russian Orthodox Church is performing a huge amount of positive work. As far as rankings, once again, I don't think it's important. It's one way today, its different tomorrow. One can never be guided by that. Whatever one's line of work, one should feel that he/she is a professional and improve one's professional skills, and do better work.
As far as ambitions, it's too soon to talk about it. We're in 2014. The election is not until 2018. There's work to be done. We'll see. The worst and most dangerous thing a politician can do is to take a tight grip on one's chair, with one's hands and one's teeth and to think of nothing else. In that case failure is guaranteed, because you'll always be afraid of taking the wrong step. That's not what one should think about. One should think about the results of one's work. And take it from there.
SERGEI BRILEV May I please look at both the past and into the future? I was very lucky to be in Guatemala when Russia won the bid, and that was the first time when our Paralympians put on a great show.
SERGEI BRILEV: The future, after the Olympics, means Paralympics.
PUTIN: Exactly. I don't know if you planned for it but the rest of Sochi, not the Olympic part of Sochi, which is not as frequently visited by foreigners but which has more Russians, and other cities are beginning to turn in the direction of our Paralympians and generally, disabled people. This is very noticeable.
SERGEI BRILEV: There's still plenty of work to be done. And there are still many things happening that are offensive to the disabled but the ball has been set rolling. Did you have this in mind when you mobilized Paralympians then? PUTIN: I did have it mind. We have a federal program for the so-called no-obstacle environment. Unfortunately, I must say, that we lag far behind many world nations in creating a no-obstacle environment. I am saying this with regret. This is how it has been since the USSR days. I am very pleased that we are clearly distancing ourselves from this clearly negative tradition. We have adopted this program for a no-obstacle environment. It is making different amounts of progress in different parts of Russia. This of course calls for additional outlays of funds. But I would very much like Sochi to become an example of how a no-obstacle environment can be created, and this how I envisioned it from the beginning. Here, it has been done, as they say, from scratch, and to the highest modern standards. And, once again, I wanted very much this no-obstacle environment program as tackled by Sochi to become an example for other provinces in the Russian Federation.
As far as Paralympians, they are all outstanding athletes. I cannot help but say this with a feeling of gratitude because in the medal tally they even best our Olympic national team. That's one. And that's very important. Number two, and this is something that's on the surface: they set an example for people without any disabilities but, especially, for people with health disabilities; an example of how one can and must collect oneself to march forward and not feel handicapped in life. Unfortunately, the State is far behind in terms of meeting the requirements that the modern world sets for resolving issues faced by people with disabilities. When our Paralympians score outstanding results, they motivate the State to deal with relevant issues. I am very grateful to them for it. I definitely count on a brilliant performance from them at the upcoming Paralympics. By the way, many media cover it; some more, some less, but, on the whole, not enough. There's a small, what's its name, RBK I think, they always cover Paralympians but I don't see anything on the federal networks.
SERGEI BRILEV: I hear you.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've put so much into these Olympics going back to 2007, so I want to know how do you define success in Sochi and is your personal honor and reputation at stake?
PUTIN: No, no. You see, I want it to be a success for this nation. What's first and foremost for us, and I've already said that, we are hosting these Olympics. Goal No. 1 for us, at the State level, not on the sports plane, but on the State level is to create a favorable environment for the athletes, visitors and the press, for tourists, so that people could come to what is a celebration, an international celebration of sports, the principal international winter sports event of this season and so they will find themselves amidst a celebration, so that millions of sports fans the world over will feel this celebration even though they are thousands or hundreds kilometers away from Sochi. This is our most important goal. And, of course, so that citizens of Russia can see that Russia does convene such events and will feel part of this celebration as well. That's one. Two is so that it will influence development of grassroots sports in this country. This is extremely important. This is a key goal. And, of course, we are also expecting good results from our athletes. If all of these components and, by the way, I haven't given you an exhaustive list but, rather, what's right on the surface; the most important things, but if all of them align together it will be considered a success. In part it'll be my personal success as well, as well as that of the RF Government, a success owned by regional authorities, success shared by everyone who was part of the preparations and who prepared, performed this work. That includes construction people, starting with designers and engineers and all the way to construction workers. Of course this would be their success and, of course, I'll be happy for them if all of this unfolds as it should. I am positive they will be pleased as well. So it won't be my personal success, that success will belong to this country, and I hope the success will come true.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: When you won the presidential election, you went out into the city square and we could all see how emotional you were. The Olympics are a much more complex task, one that is extended over a longer period of time, I mean preparation for Olympics than an election race. Have you ever given some thought to what March 18 will be like, as in the result of accomplishing this ultra complex task? PUTIN: No. I've only thought that there should be a schedule for preparing for this event. And then I thought about how to move from one stage of the schedule to the next. To what extent the previous one has been finished, how we should go about solving the next one. I would say, a total, but stage-by-stage solution to a problem. I haven't given much thought to what it would look like to onlookers.
IRADA ZEYNALOVA: So, everyone leaves on March 18, you've seen your guests off and you have your New Year's, a belated celebration as it is for everybody who is involved in the Sochi project. Do you have any plans for your New Year's?
PUTIN: No. I'm thinking that there will be other goals that'll need to be dealt with.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've talked about promoting fitness and I wanted to know: We've seen you on horseback, we've seen you play judo, we've seen you play ice hockey, and can you tell us about your personal fitness routine these days?
PUTIN: How does one control weight? By not overeating. How does one stay in shape? One plays sports. There are no magic pills here. I spend a little time everyday to play sports. Last night, I was skiing here till 1:30 in the morning. I hit the gym this morning. I swim almost every day, a thousand meters.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Every day?
PUTIN: Every day. Nothing out of the ordinary, but on a systematic basis. You know there's a Russian saying: "grain by grain, and a hen fills her belly."
Untranslated Question from Chinese Reporter
PUTIN: That's unlikely. Maybe I'll play hockey. We recently set up our Russian NHL. It doesn't mean National Hockey League. It means Night-time Hockey League. It is open to non-professionals of 40 years of age or older. I was ecstatic to see this initiative become popular across the entire Russian Federation. Teams are being set up in every province, and games are played. The finals are either organized in Moscow or, last year, in Sochi. The attendance was 100 plus teams from all the regions of the RF. 30 months ago I couldn't even stand on skates. These days, you may have seen it, I try to play. This is what I like. If and when I retire, I'll try to do what I like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN (through translator): We aren't banning anything. We aren't rounding up anyone. We don't prosecute anyone for such relations, unlike many other countries. So one can feel relaxed and at ease. But please, leave the children in peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Leave the children in peace. That was President Putin on Friday, defending the law that is threatening to overshadow these winter games. It bans, quote, "nontraditional sexual relationships to minors." It's causing a ??? propaganda about that ??? is causing a global uproar, some boycotts and questions over how Russia will treat gay athletes and tourists last month.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When the law passed last summer, protests quickly spread. President Obama weighed in too.
OBAMA: Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia. And one of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze.
STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): And I wonder if you can respond to that. And if gay and lesbian athletes engage in some sort of protest, wear a rainbow pin or some other kind of protest, will they be free from prosecution under the propaganda law?
PUTIN (through translator): Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things. They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children. That's one. Two is that I'd like to ask our colleagues, my colleagues and friends, that as they try to criticize us, they would do well to set their own house in order first. I did say, after all, and this is public knowledge, that in some of the states in the U.S., homosexuality remains a felony.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Supreme Court has struck those laws down.
PUTIN (through translator): How are they in a position to criticize us for what is a much softer, liberal approach to these issues than in their own country? I know that this isn't something that can be easily done. This is so because there are a lot of folks in the U.S. who share the view that the legislation in their state or in their nation is appropriate, well grounded, and is in sync with the sentiment of the vast majority of the population.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Russia's gay activists say that the climate there is getting ugly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The propaganda laws are almost the least of it. It's a huge concerted campaign that's unleashed by the Kremlin. It's a campaign of hate, and violence. So basically, it's a law that enshrines second-class citizenship.
PUTIN (through translator): It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their nontraditional orientation. In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one's religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): But just yesterday, this Russian protester was detained for unfurling a rainbow flag during the Olympic torch relay.
Putin had no comment about President Obama's decision not to come to Sochi, a pointed protest the president underscored by naming prominent gays and lesbians like Billie Jean King to the U.S. delegation. She spoke to our Ainee Robert (ph).
BILLY JEAN KING, TENNIS LEGEND: Hopefully it will be a watershed moment because of the gay rights and for the LGBT community, bringing it to the forefront. It is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, so I'm very proud of the openly gay ??? for me personally, if I were still young enough to be going to the Olympics to perform, this would give me such high incentive. I'd be crazed. I'd be like, let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you say to Putin?
KING: To Putin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KING: Please change this law. Just be inclusive. Champion everyone.
PUTIN (through translator): The Russian people have their own cultural code, their own traditions. We don't interfere. Don't stick our noses in their life. And we ask that our traditions and culture are treated with the same respect.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): His position: keep sports and politics separate. And when pressed, Putin pushes back.
PUTIN (through translator): Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world's nations. Seventy of the world's nations consider homosexual behavior a crime. Seven out of the 70 use capital punishment for homosexuality. What does it mean? Does it mean we need to cancel any major international sports events in those countries? Probably not.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Putin's critics fear the real crackdown will come after Sochi, including proposed legislation threatening to take custody of children away from gay parents. That's why Gessen (ph) and her partner left Russia with their children last month.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would not be surprised if the Olympics went off without a hitch in terms of the anti-gay legislation. Russia doesn't want scandals with (inaudible). So I think we're not going to see any, possibly any incidents during the Olympics. But what happens after the Olympics is I think very scary.