STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Swedes have nothing to fear from Russia, its ambassador in Stockholm, Viktor Tatarintsev, has said ahead of Eurovision, accusing Swedish media of “Russophobia”.
Speaking to Swedish public broadcaster SVT, the ambassador addressed criticism of Russia’s controversial ‘anti-gay’ laws ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest finals in Stockholm this week.
“I can urge and tell all homosexuals in Sweden and the western world that they may freely come to Russia and see that everything is completely peaceful,” said Tatarintsev in the interview late on Sunday.
Russia sparked an outcry in Sweden last year when it approved controversial legislation outlawing “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relations”, but Tatarintsev insisted that gay Eurovision fans will be welcome to Moscow if it wins on Sunday and ends up hosting the event next year.
But he added: “One should preferably not kiss in public. The law says that you should not show this off. You should respect the social order. Each and everyone has to decide for themselves what that means.”
The two countries’ friendship has been tense in recent years, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last month blaming Sweden for the cooling off in relations as the country moves closer to the Nato alliance.
“It’s every country’s right to decide what form its security should take, but one must understand that if military infrastructure approaches Russia’s borders, we would of course have to take the necessary military-technical action. There’s nothing personal in it; it’s just business,” he told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the time, appearing to launch a veiled threat against Sweden.
But Tatarintsev insisted that the minister’s comments had been inflated and taken out of context.
“Russia is a peaceful and good neighbour to Sweden. Russia has never threatened Sweden. The message was only that there is no dialogue between Sweden and Russia. Sweden does not talk to Russia,” he said, accusing Swedish media of painting an unfair picture of his country.
He reiterated Russian criticism of Norwegian television series ‘Occupied’, which recently premiered in Sweden on SVT, featuring the fictional takeover of Norway by Russian troops.
“This is a clear example of Russophobia,” said Tatarintsev.
His words are unlikely to stem much of the concern growing in Sweden, where increasing support for Nato membership has been largely credited to fear of a potentially aggressive eastern neighbour.
Sweden’s security service Säpo has described Russia as the country’s biggest security threat.
And in October 2014, a foreign submarine – suspected of being Russian, was spotted in Swedish waters just outside Stockholm. A number of Russian planes have also been spotted in, or close to, Swedish airspace over the past two years.