Russia Votes to Ban All Adoptions by Americans
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By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN / nytimes.com
December 19, 2012
MOSCOW — The Russian Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit the adoption of Russian children by American citizens. The move was in retaliation for a law signed by President Obama last week that seeks to punish Russian citizens who are accused of violating human rights.
The vote in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, was 400 to 4, with 2 abstentions. The lawmakers’ enthusiasm for the measure showed the opening of a rare split at the highest levels of the Russian government. Several senior officials had spoken out against the adoption ban, including some — like the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov — who are known for hawkish views on dealing with the United States.
President Vladimir V. Putin has said that Russia must respond to the American law, but has not yet expressed his view on banning adoptions outright. The bill needs his signature to become law, and he will have a great deal of sway over the final version that emerges from Parliament.
Since returning to the presidency in May, Mr. Putin has used populist, and sometimes reactionary, legislation by the Duma to drive much of his agenda and to suppress political dissent. The proposed adoption ban now presents an interesting test for him.
If Mr. Putin allows it to go forward, it would be the most forceful anti-American action of his new term, undoing a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified just this year and crushing the aspirations of thousands of Americans hoping to adopt Russian orphans. More than 45,000 such adoptions have taken place since 1999.
On the other hand, if Mr. Putin maneuvers to block the measure, he would be at odds with United Russia, the party that nominated him for president and has dutifully carried out his legislative line.
On Wednesday the Kremlin said the Duma’s efforts reflected the anger of rank-and-file lawmakers over the American law.
“This harsh and emotional reaction of Russian members of Parliament is well understandable,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told Russian news agencies. “Certainly, the executive branch’s policy is more restrained. But taking into account the well-known anti-Russian manifestations, Russian President Vladimir Putin understands the Russian lawmakers’ position.”
Indeed, anger pervaded the brief legislative debate on Wednesday. “We most love our country and not just play into the hands of the Americans, who will just take what they want,” said Sergei N. Reshulsky of the Communist Party, who voted for the bill.
The State Department did not immediately respond to the action by the Duma, but a spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, took note of prior cooperation on international adoptions.
“We have worked hard with Russia to address past problems through our new adoption agreement, which the Duma has approved,” Ms. Nuland said. “Hundreds of Russian orphans have found safe, loving homes in the United States, as have children from around the world.”
Duma members were not deterred by words of caution from senior officials, including Mr. Lavrov; the education minister, Dmitry Livanov; and even the speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Parliament. The bill must still be approved by the Federation Council before it becomes law, but the deputy speaker, Aleksandr P. Torshin, predicted that it would pass easily.
The law that Mr. Obama signed on Friday is named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after trying to expose a huge government tax fraud. Mr. Magnitsky died in prison in 2009, and there were allegations that he had been denied proper medical care.
The new American law requires the administration to assemble a list of Russian citizens accused of abusing human rights, including officials involved in Mr. Magnitsky’s case, and to bar them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.
The Kremlin reacted furiously to the Magnitsky law, calling it hypocritical and pointing to alleged rights abuses by the United States, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons around the world.
While Russian officials, including Mr. Putin, have promised a forceful response, they have struggled to find one that seems reciprocal and proportional. Many Russians, especially the wealthy, travel to the United States, own property there and keep accounts in American financial institutions, but relatively few Americans take vacations or own assets in Russia.
Russian lawmakers named their bill after Dmitri Yakovlev, a toddler who died of heat stroke in a Virginia suburb of Washington in July 2008 after his adoptive father left him in a parked car for nine hours. The father, Miles Harrison, was tried for manslaughter but was acquitted. Other cases of mistreatment of adopted Russian children have inflamed public opinion, especially a 2010 incident when a Tennessee woman put the 7-year-old boy she had adopted on a flight back to Russia, alone.
Russian critics of the proposed ban have said that it would punish Russian orphans more than it would the United States, and only served to emphasize Russia’s failures on child welfare issues. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta said it had collected more than 86,000 signatures on an open letter “to protect Russian children from the meanness of Russian lawmakers.”
Ilya V. Ponomarev, an opposition lawmaker who voted against the ban, said that statistically, Russian children living in Russia were at far greater risk of abuse or death than those living in the United States, and that in most abuse cases in the United States, judges have handed down stiff sentences.
Mr. Ponomarev also noted that the Magnitsky law was aimed at punishing Russian citizens who violate the rights of other Russian citizens, so for Russia to reciprocate, it would need a law aimed at Americans who violate other Americans’ rights.
“We want a symmetrical law,” he said. “This one doesn’t correspond.”