Mr. Putin lashed out at the Euro-Atlantic countries for straying from their "roots" and sinking into moral decay by putting "an equation mark" between same-sex partnerships and mixed-sex multi-child marriages.

If Western analysts gathered for an annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club hoped to pin Russian President Vladimir Putin to the wall over lack of democracy and violation of gay rights, they could not have been mistaken more.

Addressing more than 200 academics and Russia experts from all over the world on Thursday, Mr. Putin turned the tables on critics of Russia’s law banning propaganda of homosexual relations among minors.

Mr. Putin lashed out at the Euro-Atlantic countries for straying from their “roots” and sinking into moral decay by putting “an equation mark” between same-sex partnerships and mixed-sex multi-child marriages.

“Excesses of political correctness have reached the point where serious consideration is being given to the registration of parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia,” Mr. Putin said in reference to a court in the Netherlands that earlier this year overturned a ban on a pro-paedophilia group.

The Russian leader warned that such policies were a “straight road to degradation and primitivism, to deep demographic and moral crisis”.

“Can there be more glaring evidence of moral crisis in a human community than its loss of ability for self-reproduction? Today practically all developed nations cannot reproduce themselves, not even with the help of immigration,” said Mr. Putin.

“Europeans are dying out. Same sex marriages do not produce children,” he added. The marathon 3-hour question-and-answer session that followed Mr. Putin’s speech was a one-man show, with the Russian leader setting off roars of laughter in the audience with his jokes.

Returning to the subject of the West’s obsession with gay rights, Mr. Putin said his friend, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, would not have stood trial for having sex with a minor if he were gay.

“Berlusconi is being tried for bedding women. If he were homosexual, no one would ever lay a finger on him,” Mr. Putin said.

When former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Russia and Europe went together like “vodka and caviar,” Mr. Putin immediately took a dig at the Europeans:

“But vodka and caviar are both Russian-made goods,” he quipped. “Those Europeans are fond of a peculiar way of sharing: ‘Let’s first share your dinner and then have each one his own’.”

The highlight of the meeting came when former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, asked by Mr. Putin whether he planned to run for President, returned the question to the Russian leader: “I’ll answer only if you do.”

“I don’t rule out running again,” Mr. Putin replied without hesitation.

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