Can you feel the love tonight?
Russian President Vladimir Putin may soon find out, if he meets Elton John — as he is ready to do, his spokesman said Thursday.
The powerful Russian leader and legendary rocker may seem like an odd pairing, given Putin’s oft-conservative positions and his day job running a country, and John’s career as a musician and well-known advocacy for gay rights. Yet they were brought together by, of all things, a prank call. Since then, the two have talked for real on the phone and may soon meet up in person.
“The president has said that he is ready to meet Elton John,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, according to Russia’s official Sputnik news agency. “And as soon as the schedules intersect, they will meet.”
The state-run TASS news agency reported that Peskov further insisted, “This is not an issue for negotiations.”
Russia criticized on LGBT issues
The Kremlin spokesman’s comments come days after John told the Mirror, a British tabloid, that he was “very flattered” that Putin reached out to him by phone after the prank call in September.
“He was very gracious and he spoke good English,” the singer said of Putin. “He apologized for the hoax call.”
John added that he looked forward to “when I can discuss things with him face to face within the next year.”
Their apparently positive first impressions notwithstanding, the pair have a lot distinct differences that could kill any good vibes.
Gay rights is top among them. Putin leads a country that, in July 2013, passed a law that bars “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors” — which translates to banning public discussion (much less advocacy) of gay rights and relationships if it’s possible children might hear it.
A Human Rights Watch report released in December 2014 concluded that since then, things have gotten worse for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the country. The report faults Russian authorities for failing to protect such people from persecution and are not prosecuting the perpetrators of a number of anti-gay attacks.
John, meanwhile, has long been a vocal champion of LGBT rights as well as the fight against AIDS. He and his husband, David Furnish, have two children.
Prank brought John, Putin together
Given the seriousness of this topic, it’s ironic that a joke connected John and Putin.
It started when the singer told the BBC that he wanted to talk with Putin about the treatment of gay people in Russia. Two weeks later, John picked up his phone and thought his hopes were realized.
He posted on Instagram on September 14 that Putin had reached out to him and that he looked forward to meeting the Russian leader “to discuss LGBT equality in Russia.”
But the next day, the Kremlin denied any conversation had taken place. Then Vladimir Krasnov, a Russian TV personality known for making pranks, announced that he and a sidekick — not the Kremlin — had made the call, pretending to be Putin and a press secretary.
The real Putin ended up talking to John about a week later, at which time Peskov first signaled the Russian President’s willingness to have an in-person meeting.
“Putin called and said, ‘I know you were called by pranksters; don’t get offended by those guys, they are harmless, though this certainly does not justify their actions,'” Peskov said then, according to Sputnik.