Russia's leading LGBT activist quits, derided as Kremlin’s 'pocket gay'

Nikolai Alexeyev is no stranger to controversy.

Nikolai Alexeyev, the founder of Moscow Pride and one of Russia’s most vocal gay rights activists, announced late Wednesday that he is quitting activism.

His abrupt departure from Russia’s embattled LGBT movement, which has come under increasing pressure in recent months amid a national ban on gay “propaganda,” appeared to be the result of a recent opinion column in Out Magazine by the Russian-American gay pornographer Michael Lucas, who accused Alexeyev of being “the Kremlin’s new pocket gay.”

Lucas alleged that Alexeyev has “changed his tune” and grown increasingly critical of Western outcries over Russia’s gay rights situation.

“No longer is he saying that Russian homophobia had reached hysterical proportions; suddenly, it is the Western reaction to it that is hysterical,” he wrote on Wednesday.

Lucas pointed to Alexeyev’s apparent criticism of Western media and observers for blowing out of proportion Russia’s potential enforcement of the new law, which purports to protect minors from information that equates “nontraditional sexual relationships” to traditional ones, during the Sochi Olympics in February.

Those comments appeared to anger Alexeyev, who says he will sue Lucas over the article.

“All the world can thank @MichaelLucasNYC. I decided to leave LGBT activism,” he said via Twitter. “I only paid [my] own money and faced insults.”

He also promised to withdraw all 30 cases he has filed in the European Court of Human Rights over the infringement of gay rights in Russia.

Alexeyev’s sudden announcement stunned supporters worldwide, many of whom responded via Twitter and pleaded for him to remain in activism.

He said his last media appearance would be on RT, the state-run English-language broadcaster, on Saturday.

Alexeyev is no stranger to controversy and the public spotlight.

He came to prominence for attempting to organize sanctioned gay pride rallies in Moscow starting in 2006, and has spent years tangled in legal cases against Russia in Strasbourg. The municipal authorities have regularly banned the rallies.

Just this week, police raided Alexeyev’s apartment in connection to a complaint by senior lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, a key sponsor of the gay “propaganda” law, that Alexeyev defamed her on the internet while criticizing the new legislation.

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Alexeyev’s announcement arrives as international pressure on Russia is increasing over its alleged abuse of gay rights.

The Sochi Olympics have recently taken center stage in the affair, with some Western activists calling for a boycott of the games. Senior officials from the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to ensure the safety and personal rights of the athletes competing in the games.

Russian officials have played down fears that the law will affect the games, but have said it will remain in force and warned foreign visitors to respect Russian law.