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Putin honors anti-gay pol amid Elton John criticism

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently honored a prominent anti-gay politician who helped pass Russia's law against gay "propaganda," according to media reports.

The Guardian newspaper of London reported that Putin bestowed a medal to St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov recognizing "service to the Fatherland," according to a decree published Sept. 8.

Russian media reported on Milonov's honor Sunday, days after Elton John criticized the Russian law and comments by Putin suggesting that gay people prey on children. He told the BBC he would "love to sit down with him" and try to change Putin's mind.

The Guardian reported that Milonov told Russian radio station RSN that the British star shouldn't distract Putin with with "rainbow affairs." Milonov offered on the air to meet with John to tell him how he was "deeply and systematically mistaken."

The state honor acknowledged Milonov for his "active lawmaking efforts and many years of honest work," according to the Guardian.

"I'm very proud," Milonov told the AFP news service Monday. "It's as if he has given me an advance and I have to repay him by working even more."

Following the news of Milonov's honor, John said Tuesday that Putin phoned him about the musician's request for a meeting - but Putin's spokesman denied the report.

On Instagram, the British star said "thank-you to President Vladimir Putin for reaching out and speaking via telephone with me today. I look to forward to meeting with you face-to-face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia."

John's publicist, Gary Farrow, confirmed the content of the Instagram post Tuesday.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies later Tuesday that Putin never called John.

"Putin did not have a conversation with Elton John, and, what's more, we have not received any requests from him for a meeting," Peskov was quoted as saying.

Peskov added, however, that Putin would be willing to talk to the musician if he reaches out to him.

"The president has always been open to discuss human rights issues," he said. "The president, I'm sure, will be ready to meet with Elton John, too, if there is such a request."

John performed in the then-Soviet Union in 1979 and still regularly plays shows in Russia.