and Mansur Mirovalev
MOSCOW: Defying a storm of domestic and international criticism, Russia moved toward finalizing a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, as Parliament’s upper house voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a measure that President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will sign into law.
The bill is widely seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation against an American law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators.
It comes as Putin takes an increasingly confrontational attitude toward the West, brushing aside concerns about a crackdown on dissent and democratic freedoms.
Dozens of Russian children close to being adopted by American families now will almost certainly be blocked from leaving the country.
The law also cuts off the main international adoption route for Russian children stuck in often dismal orphanages: Tens of thousands of Russian youngsters have been adopted in the U.S. in the past 20 years. There are about 740,000 children without parental care in Russia, according to UNICEF.
All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, which has sparked criticism from both the U.S. and Russian officials, activists and artists, who say it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape the squalor of orphanage life. The vote comes days after parliament’s lower house overwhelmingly approved the ban.
The U.S. State Department said Wednesday it regretted the Russian parliament’s decision.
“Since 1992, American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into their homes, providing them with an opportunity to grow up in a family environment,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement from Washington. “The bill passed by Russia’s parliament would prevent many children from enjoying this opportunity …
“It is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations,” he said.
Seven people with posters protesting the bill were detained outside the Council before Wednesday’s vote. “Children get frozen in the Cold War,” one poster read. Some 60 people rallied in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
The bill is part of larger legislation by Putin-allied lawmakers retaliating against a recently signed U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Although Putin has not explicitly committed to signing the bill, he strongly defended it in a news conference last week as “a sufficient response” to the new U.S. law.
Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov told the Interfax news agency that 46 children who were on the verge of being adopted by Americans would stay in Russia if the bill is approved — despite court rulings in some of these cases authorizing the adoptions.
The ombudsman supported the bill, saying that foreign adoptions discourage Russians from adopting children. “A foreigner who has paid for an adoption always gets a priority compared to potential Russian adoptive parents,” Astakhov was quoted as saying.
Americans involved in adoption of Russian children find the new legislation upsetting.
Bill Blacquiere, president of New York City-based Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest adoption agencies in the U.S., said he hopes Putin won’t sign the bill.
“It would be very sad for kids to grow up in orphanages,” Blacquiere said. “And would hurt them socially, psychologically and mentally. We all know that caring for children in institutions is just not a very good thing.”
By Tuesday, more than 100,000 Russians had signed an online petition urging the Kremlin to scrap the bill.