In a move that risks escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Russian lawmakers this week passed a bill that would effectively ban U.S. citizens from adopting Russian-born children, a move that President Vladimir Putin has said he could support.
Speaking on Thursday December 20, at what was the first presidential news conference of his third term, Putin said that while he would have to examine the exact language of the bill before reaching his final conclusion, he felt the ban was an “emotional but adequate” response to recent American human rights legislation that would restrict Russian visas.
Putin did, however, sound a note of caution regarding the legislation, reportedly saying that most American adoptive parents are “honest and decent people.” Still, he went on to vigorously defend the proposed ban when questioned by a journalist over the imprudence of the bill.
“This is about the attitude of American officials in situations involving the violation of children’s rights,” he said, after a Russian journalist criticized the proposed ban. “Do you consider this normal? You like this? What are you, a sadomasochist? There is no need to humiliate the country! We do not forbid adoption by foreigners in general. There are other countries besides the United States.”
The move is almost certainly a reaction to the U.S.-authored Magnitsky Act, passed this month, which introduced sanctions on Russian alleged human rights violators. The legislation, signed by President Obama on December 14, is intended to punish Russian officials who are believed to have been responsible for the death of Russian lawyer and whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and putting financial restrictions on their U.S. dealings.
The adoption ban, which has moved through Russia’s Duma at break-neck speed, might not sound like it should give the U.S. pause, but the move does strike as being incredibly spiteful when one realizes that, as the BBC reports, the rate of adoption is very low inside Russia and, with some 3,400 Russian children adopted by foreign families in 2011, nearly a third of them by Americans, there is a considerable reliance on foreign adoption.
Americans have adopted around 60,000 Russian children over the past 20 years, with 19 recorded deaths among them. Over the same period, 1,500 orphans died in Russian adoptive families, according to the Russian prosecutor-general’s office.
The legislation would effectively sever a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified earlier this year, one that could potentially have stood to benefit thousands of Russia’s orphans. Indeed, the only ones that really stand to be hurt by this ban seems to be Russian-born children. As such, the move has proved controversial, with a number of senior officials having spoken out against the ban even while harshly criticizing U.S. foreign policy.
The legislation must now be taken up by the Federal Assembly, the upper legislative chamber. Should the upper chamber give its nod to the legislation, Putin could still decide to veto or request changes, but the fact that he has decided to voice his support for the bill’s principle would appear to demonstrate a desire to hit back at the U.S. that would not tally with later getting cold feet.
What impact this will have with the U.S. remains to be seen but, given Putin’s harsh comments during Thursday’s lengthy news conference that the U.S. was attempting to start a new Cold War, any meaningful action toward better relations seems unlikely.