Russia’s lower house of parliament on Friday approved a bill that would ban adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans. The measure, widely seen as retaliation for a law passed by the US Congress, still needs Senate and presidential approval.
Last year 962 of 3,400 Russian children adopted by foreigners were taken in by American parents, a figure that made the United States the number one destination for Russian orphans. But not for much longer, say Russian lawmakers, who on Friday approved a bill banning Americans from adopting their country’s orphans.
The controversial measure received strong support in the State Duma, receiving 420 votes in favour and 7 against. Before becoming law it must pass through a vote in the Senate, and be signed into law by President Putin, but the move has put added strain on already fraught tensions between Washington and Moscow.
The legislation is seen as a retaliatory measure against a bill that cleared the US Congress on December 6 and was swiftly signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Known as the “Magnitsky Act”, the law denies US entry to human-rights violators, but it specifically targets dozens of Russian officials thought to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, and its alleged cover-up.
Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer working for a US hedge fund, died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after blowing the whistle on what he claimed was a 178 million euro police embezzlement scheme. Russian authorities have denied the allegations.
A US State Department official told FRANCE 24 on Thursday that despite “some very disturbing provisions” to the anti-Magnitsky Act bill, Washington would “continue to work closely with Russian authorities on intercountry adoption issues.”
“Each year, thousands of children find loving, nurturing homes through intercountry adoptions, and the lives of thousands of American families have been enriched by welcoming Russian orphans into their homes,” the official said in an email.
Analysts said Friday’s vote was part of a larger anti-American trend among the Kremlin and many Russian officials, who claim Washington has tried to undermine them by supporting political opponents. Russian lawmakers pointed to the Magnitsky Act as yet another attempt by Americans to meddle in internal Russian politics.
The issue of international adoptions is particularly sensitive among the two former Cold War allies, with reports of abuse and neglect of Russian orphans by American families getting heavy media attention in recent years.
Russians were outraged in 2010 when an American woman sent back a 7-year-old Russian boy she had adopted, saying he had “behavioral problems and she didn’t want him anymore.”
“There is a real dispute between the two countries on this subject,” said Stéphane Lauch, vice-president of the French based Russian Adoption Association, a support group for families who have adopted Russian children. “Although the cases of abuse in the US are isolated, the Russians are exploiting them politically and diplomatically.”
In a move mirroring the recent legislation passed in the US, the Russian law is being called the Dima Yajovlev bill after a Russian girl who suffocated to death in 2008 when her adopted American father left her in a locked car during the summer heatwave.
Law undermining diplomatic efforts
While the Russian bill has found overwhelming support in the Duma, several high-profile Russian officials have expressed concern over the move, warning orphans should not be used as bargaining chips.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is pushing for better relations with Washington, said on Tuesday the proposed ban was “a mistake”.
Education Minister Dmitry Livanov wrote on Twitter earlier in the week that the law would only hurt Russian orphans who could not find parents at home, the Wall Street Journal reported. “This is eye-for-an-eye logic, but it’s wrong, because it’s our children that could suffer”, he said.
Earlier this week, dozens of people rallied at the gates of the Duma in protest of the bill. Thirty of them were arrested by the Moscow police.
The Russian Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill next week.
Putin has not said if he would sign it into law, but on Thursday he suggested he would approve the measure, saying it was an emotional but appropriate response to an unfriendly move by the US.