Putin lauds Russian women for motherhood, beauty

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Krasnodar Region Governor Veniamin Kondratyev in Krasnodar

(Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on Russian women on Friday, International Women's Day, singling them out for providing the gifts of motherhood, charm and beauty, part of a long-running campaign to boost the country's birth rate.

The 8th March holiday has been one of the most popular in Russia since Soviet times, marked by gifts of flowers and sweets -- and effusive speeches extolling the feminine qualities of women and their skills in making households run.

"Today in Russia, the family - its interests and needs - is the focus of our attention, our absolute priority," Putin said in a video greeting to mark the holiday.

"We will do everything so that families with ... multiple children and young parents feel the state's help and concern."

Addressing women directly, Putin said they took on complex tasks "and so impress us men with your ability to do it all quickly, in a timely fashion, while also taking great care.

"You cope with a great pile of problems and worries while all the while remaining charming and beautiful. How can one not simply admire this?"

Putin has intensified a drive to boost Russia's birth rate, saying in his annual address to parliament last week that large families "must become the norm, our society's philosophy of life and a benchmark for government strategy". Families with three and more children, he said, were "our great pride".

And this year's version of presidential greetings included a special mention of women involved in the two-year-old conflict, or "special military operation" in Ukraine, with praise for those women who "perform military tasks" or "await our heroes".

The theme of upholding family values has become a rallying point for Putin while decrying what he describes as declining moral standards in the West and a legal framework for liberal views of sexuality and same-sex marriage.

Russia's Supreme Court banned the LGBT movement last November, continuing a pattern of increasing restrictions in Russia on expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Sandra Maler)