Vladimir Putin's spokesman says the Russian president did not call Elton John to discuss LGBT rights. On Tuesday, the British singer wrote on Instagram that Putin had phoned to request a meeting.
Whom to trust? "Trust Me" singer Elton John or tiger-wrestling Russian President Vladimir Putin?
"Thank-you to President Vladimir Putin for reaching out and speaking via telephone with me today," John wrote. "I look forward to meeting with you face-to-face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia."
But the Kremlin denies this. "I am telling you with full authority that President Putin has not talked to Sir Elton John," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by the state news agency TASS.
In footage released by the BBC Saturday, John said he would like to discuss Putin's stance on LGBT equality. "I'd say, come on," the 68-year-old told BBC. "Gay people are not the problem here." He added: "It's probably pie in the sky, but I'd love to meet him and say, 'Come on, let's have a cup of tea, let's talk about this.'"
In 2013, Russia banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in front of minors. The country has also banned marriage equality, and officials refer to rights efforts as "propaganda." Just this summer, Russia began denying driver's licenses to transgender people, and calls to ban the international LGBT rainbow flag have followed the arrests of marchers in a spring Pride parade.
John, who has two adopted children with his husband, the Canadian filmmaker David Furnish, said he hoped to use his influence to promote tolerance. He performed in the Soviet Union in 1979 and still regularly plays shows in Russia.
Peskov said Putin, "always ready to explain the real state of things," remained open to talking with John. And perhaps the Rocket Man could give Putin some pointers on Russia's space program.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, Sir Elton John has long campaigned for equality and against AIDS, causes that frequently bring him into contact with world leaders. In 1997, he adapted "Candle in the Wind," originally written for Marilyn Monroe, for his friend Princess Diana after she died in a car accident. Over the weekend, he met President Petro Poroshenko to discuss LGBT affairs in Ukraine, and in August John publically feuded with Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who banned books featuring same-sex coupled from city schools; John called him "boorishly bigoted" on Instagram.
John has previously buried the hatchet with homophobes. At the 2001 Grammys, he performed with Eminem, who had received widespread criticism from LGBT groups; at the end of their duet, the two men embraced and the rapper gave the audience the stink finger. And, at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, the Piano Man contributed his keys to the nine-minute Guns N' Roses epic "November Rain" after singer Axl Rose had drawn accusations of homophobia from LGBT activists.
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mkg/jil (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)