But Putin has described the agreement as ineffective and a case of “sham stupidity.”
The adoption law passed the lower house of parliament by a vote of 420 to 7 and passed the upper house unanimously.
Putin began stepping up his anti-American rhetoric a year ago, as he was running for president. He accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of fomenting the street protests that took place in Moscow over the winter. Parliament then passed a law requiring nonprofit groups that receive foreign funds — which, in Russia’s case, primarily means American funds — to register as “foreign agents.” This fall, Putin ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to close its Russian operation.
All year long, politicians in parliament and the Kremlin railed against the prospect that the U.S. Congress would pass a law in honor of the late whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, targeting the corrupt Russian tax and police officials who had a hand in his case. After Congress passed the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law this month, Russia’s response was the adoption measure.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said: “We have repeatedly made clear, both in private and in public, our deep concerns about the bill passed by the Russian parliament. . . . The welfare of children is simply too important to tie to the political aspects of our relationship.”
Putin said Thursday that he will issue decrees intended to improve conditions in orphanages and make adoption more palatable for Russian families. He noted approvingly that in some of the most violent regions of the Caucasus, children of those who have died are taken in by relatives, in contrast to the rest of the country.
The Russian government’s ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov, said the country can phase out all its orphanages in five to seven years. He said it should ban all foreign adoptions, not just those by Americans.
Ilya Yashin, a young opposition leader, said in a tweet that Astakhov’s position represented “cynicism beyond limits.” The newspaper Novaya Gazeta said 100,000 people had signed an online petition against the bill. The Putin-appointed Human Rights Council said the legislation punishes the innocent and opens up new ground for corruption.
Sarah Mraz, director of international adoption programs at Wide Horizons for Children, said the Massachusetts-based child-welfare organization spent the day counseling families.
“It has been very difficult for families to understand that politics can supersede the importance of a child to have a family,” she said. “It’s devastating to the families.”
The legislation would still allow Russian children to go to the United States if they are taken in by relatives, and critics suggested Thursday that interested couples would find ways to “buy” family connections.
The Magnitsky link
The Russian legislation also draws even more attention to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. That law places financial and visa sanctions on officials connected to the arrest, imprisonment and death of Magnitsky, a lawyer who unearthed a $230 million tax fraud and was subsequently arrested by the same police officers who he said were carrying out the fraud. He died in jail in 2009. According to his supporters, he had just been given a severe beating.
That tax fraud involved senior officials of the tax agency as well as police. Hermitage Capital, Magnitsky’s client, has tracked millions of dollars of overseas financial transfers by those officials and uncovered other, similar cases.
A Moscow judge on Friday acquitted prison doctor Dmitry Kratov, the only person to face trial in the Magnitsky case, finding no evidence of negligence leading to the lawyer’s death. The acquittal was requested by the prosecution after Putin said publicly a week ago that “no one tortured Magnitsky, and he died of heart failure.”
“There is no doubt that people responsible for Magnitsky’s death are being protected by the president of Russia,” the Britain-based Hermitage Capital said in a statement Friday.
The American law named for Magnitsky struck a nerve with Russian officials, who have denounced it. Legislators named their retaliatory bill the Dima Yakovlev law, after a Russian toddler who died in Virginia when his adoptive father left him unattended in a locked car on a hot July day. The father was later acquitted of charges of involuntary manslaughter, sparking strong Russian criticism.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, 19 Russian adoptees have died in the United States in the past 20 years.