Russia's pride in composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, even though he was gay, is proof that the country does not discriminate against homosexuals, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
Putin was apparently seeking to ease concerns that a new law banning "gay propaganda" will be used to clamp down on gay rights. The law has been condemned abroad and brought calls from gay rights groups for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
But opinion polls show it is backed by most Russians and the measure is part a conservative course charted by Putin to consolidate support following protests against his 13-year rule.
"Tchaikovsky was gay - although it's true that we don't love him because of that - but he was a great musician and we all love his music. So what?," Putin said in an interview with Russian state Channel 1 television aired on Wednesday.
"There is no cause to make a mountain out of a molehill, nothing scary or terrible is happening here in our country."
Asked whether he would meet members of the gay and lesbian community, Putin said: "I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes."
Putin's critics say the law is one of a string of repressive measures introduced by the former KGB spy in the first year of his third presidential term that clamp down on dissent, violate gay rights and restrain non-governmental organizations.
The criticism has overshadowed preparations for the Sochi Olympics - a priority for Putin, who wants it to show Russia as a modern state with top-notch infrastructure.
Amnesty International called on Wednesday for G20 leaders gathering in St. Petersburg this week to condemn what it dubbed a "homophobic law". The human rights watchdog said the law would allow for state-sponsored discrimination, promotes a climate of intolerance, and encouraged violence by vigilante groups.