In his state-of-the-nation address yesterday Putin said "healthy family" and traditional values were among Russia's top priorities.

"Traditional family, a healthy nation is our strategic choice," Putin reaffirmed, speaking with rights activists at the Kremlin today.

But he added, "This should not look as if we intend to persecute people of some non-traditional orientation."

"One does not preclude the other," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying. "I believe that such balanced approach is absolutely the right one."

Since returning to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012, Putin has pushed an increasingly conservative agenda, seeking to promote Russia as the antithesis of the West.

In 2013, Russia passed a hugely controversial law banning the promotion or display of homosexuality in front of minors.     
Rights activists, Western governments and stars including Madonna have decried legislation as a crackdown on gays and lesbians.

Russia has also adopted legislation banning adoptions by gay parents.

Putin has repeatedly brushed off the accusations, and today he called such criticism "a label forced on Russia by other countries."

"Society which cannot protect its children does not have a future," he added.

Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and in 1999 lifted its classification as a mental illness.

But homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable in Russia, and almost no public figures have come out as gay.

As tensions with Brussels spiralled over Ukraine this year some of Putin's staunchest supporters have taken to calling Europe "Gayropa", a combination of Russian words "Yevropa" and "Gay."

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