Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Russian president Vladimir Putin "cuddled" with Ireen Wust, Dutch speedskater who's one of the few openly gay/bisexual athletes at the Sochi Games. The significance of this is obvious: Putin has taken a vocal public against what Russia terms gay "propaganda." But when faced with a real live gay person, one who didn't have horns or children-devouring fangs, Putin's approach changed significantly.
Video has now surfaced of the encounter, and it's important to note that what Wust termed "cuddling" isn't really what most Americans would associate with the term — a little wine, a bearskin rug before a fire, that sort of thing. No, it was just a simple hug, but you can judge for yourself:
"He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia, and I congratulated him on Olga Graf, of course, for her third place" finish, Wust told a Dutch news organization. "He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again.”
In the video, provided by Russian news organization Russia Today, Putin also spoke German and tipped back a glass of beer. But it's his response to Wust — as a human being to be congratulated and admired, not as an abstraction to be feared and loathed — that's most significant.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if Putin can change, everybody can change.