Russia advances law to ban U.S. adoptions
By Michael Birnbaum,
MOSCOW — Russia’s parliament voiced strong support Wednesday for barring Americans from adopting Russian children, a retaliation against a new U.S. measure imposing penalties on Russian officials connected to the death in custody of a Moscow lawyer and other human rights violations.
The proposed Russian law, which was overwhelmingly approved in a procedural vote Wednesday, would also place tight restrictions on nongovernmental organizations that receive financial support from the United States, banning the groups if they engage in political activities considered contrary to “Russia’s interests.”
Russia was the third-largest source of international adoptions to the United States last year. The proposed adoption ban — which would take effect Jan. 1 and would sanction U.S. officials whom Moscow deems to have been implicated in the endangerment of Russian adoptees — must clear several hurdles before it becomes law.
The move comes amid continued fury in Russia over the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on Friday and has put additional stress on the tumultuous bilateral relationship.
The new law imposes visa and financial sanctions on Russian officials tied to the 2009 death in Moscow of Magnitsky, a lawyer and tax adviser. Russian lawmakers have denounced it as meddling in their domestic affairs, and on Wednesday, the lower house of parliament voted 400 to 4 in favor of the tit-for-tat response, with two abstentions.
The bill approved by the State Duma is named for Dima Yakovlev, a Russian orphan who was adopted by a Virginia couple and died in 2008 at 21 months after being left unattended in a car for nine hours. His father was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
The proposed law must pass two more parliamentary hurdles before it can be forwarded to President Vladimir Putin for signing, but legislative leaders have signaled confidence that it will sail through. Top Putin allies, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have expressed opposition to the legislation in recent days, but Putin has been less clear.
“This harsh and emotional reaction of Russian parliamentarians is well understandable,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported. “The executive branch’s policy is more restrained.”
Many lawmakers said they were taking steps to protect Russian children. “Our children are frequently killed” in the United States, said Alexander Torshin, a deputy speaker of the lower house, Interfax reported. “The criminal justice system often acquits the culprits.”But many Russian children’s advocates have criticized the proposed law, saying that conditions in the nation’s orphanages are often poor and that few Russians adopt the children themselves.
Orphans will “stay in Russian children’s institutions, with tragic consequences,” said Boris Altshuler, the head of Rights of the Child, a nongovernmental advocacy group. Altshuler estimated that 83,000 orphans were in Russian institutions, along with more than 200,000 children whose parents have given up custody at least temporarily.
Other measures in the bill promised to have domestic consequences. Putin has been cracking down on his opposition since returning to the president’s office in May after four years as prime minister. The vaguely worded proposal to ban U.S.-supported, politically active NGOs seen as working against Russian interests appeared to be a new step to restrict them, after earlier measures to force any group that receives U.S. funding to register as a “foreign agent.”