Internationally renowned journalist Masha Gessen says President Vladimir Putin's anti-gay agenda is targeting people who are seen by many in Russia as the "quintessential other" in order to consolidate political power.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Day 6, Gessen, who holds both Russian and U.S. citizenship and is the author of the Putin biography The Man Without a Face, says the Russian leader has tried to wage a culture war, and part of that war is aimed at gays and lesbians.

"On the one side of this war is his shrinking constituency, which he views as Russian traditionalists in every sense.

"So they're nationalists. They are socially very conservative. They identify as Russian Orthodox, and they buy the line that Russia is surrounded by enemies who are out to destroy it and who were also behind the protest movement last year," she says.

An international backlash against Russia's crackdown on gay rights picked up momentum this past week.

People from Vancouver to New York were holding "vodka-dumping" protests and some are calling for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia.

It's all in opposition to a contentious new law that Putin signed in late June. The law bans "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," making it illegal to support gay rights in public.