Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks Friday at his meeting with Olympic volunteers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Putin says gay people should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but they must "leave children in peace." (Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press / January 17, 2014)

MOSCOW -- In the run-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin on Friday again insisted that there is no discrimination against gays in Russia -- but then urged gays to "please leave children in peace."

Putin defended Russia's record on the issue, despite new laws in Russia that in part criminalize public displays of support for gays and that have drawn international condemnation.

“Firstly we have no ban on nontraditional forms of sexual interaction between people,” Putin said in televised remarks during his meeting with Olympics volunteers in Krasnaya Polyana, the alpine skiing site near Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda about homosexuality and pedophilia among minors, which I'd like to stress. These are absolutely different things: a ban on certain relations and on propaganda about these relations.”

“We don't prohibit anything, there is no [criminal] liability for such relationship here in contrast to, I'd like to stress, many other world countries, including the United States, some states of which provide for criminal responsibility for nontraditional sexual orientation,” Putin said. “We have nothing like this here, this is why you can feel free, unrestrained, but please leave children in peace.”

About two dozen volunteers who met with Putin were all dressed in Russian Olympic blue and white with rainbow ornaments on their suits, and one of the volunteers asked Putin why their uniforms are adorned with the symbol adopted by many gay rights activists.

“If you think I designed this uniform you are greatly mistaken,” Putin responded.

Foreign visitors should respect Russian traditions and culture, Putin said.

“We have our traditions and our culture,” he said. “We treat any of our partners with respect but we request that our traditions and our culture also  be treated with respect.”

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sergei.loiko@latimes.com