MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin used his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday to defend conservative values, referring obliquely to his government's anti-gay stance as he chided the West for treating "good and evil" equally.
Russia has faced Western criticism over a law banning "propaganda of non-traditional relations," which gay rights groups say has given a green light to harassment and intimidation. The law has prompted activists across the world to demand a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
In his 70-minute televised speech from an ornate Kremlin hall, Putin pledged to defend traditional family values, which he said were the foundation of Russia's greatness and a bulwark against "so-called tolerance — genderless and infertile."
He lamented the "review of norms of morality" going on in many other countries.
"This destruction of traditional values from above not only entails negative consequences for society, but is also inherently anti-democratic because it is based on an abstract notion and runs counter to the will of the majority of people," Putin said.
Quoting early 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, the president said conservatism does not stop society from progressing but "prevents it from falling backward into chaotic darkness and the state of primitive man."
This statement was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience, which was comprised of lawmakers, judges, religious leaders and federal and regional officials.
Putin is believed to be a devout Christian, but it is only in recent years that he has taken a stand to promote conservative values and the Russian Orthodox Church as he seeks to consolidate his support base.