Vladimir Putin has indicated he is likely to sign into law a bill that bans Americans from adopting Russian children.
The bill was proposed in response to the US’s recent passing of a law that bans Russian officials implicated in the prison death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from travelling to or keeping money in the US.
Russia‘s response has launched a storm of controversy both among Putin’s critics, who have accused the government of holding children hostage to politics, and among some of his most loyal ministers.
The upper house of parliament passed the bill unanimously on Wednesday.
“So far I see no reason not to sign it,” Putin said at a meeting of senior officials on Thursday, adding that he would “have to review the final text and weigh everything”.
“I am ready to sign not only the law … but also a presidential decree that will modify the support mechanisms for orphaned children,” he said.
The bill comes amid an increase in state-sponsored anti-foreigner propaganda. Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, said this week that Russian children adopted by foreigners would not be allowed into heaven.
Tens of thousands of children enter Russia’s decrepit orphanage system every year. Around 60,000 children have been adopted by Americans in the past 20 years. Russian officials have spotlighted the 19 who have died, including Dima Yakovlev, a 21-month-old who was left to die in a sweltering car by his father, who was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter. The Russian bill is named after the boy.
Putin has defended the law as a necessary response to the Magnitsky Act, which he has described as “anti-Russian” and having “nothing to do with officials”. Magnitsky, a lawyer for the London-based investor William Browder, was arrested after investigating corruption by Russian tax and police officials, and died an excruciating death in 2009.
Relations between Moscow and Washington DC have plummeted since Putin announced his intention to return to the presidency last year. He has blamed the opposition against him inside Russia on a plot dreamed up by the US state department.
The opposition has slammed the law as “cannibalistic”. The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta gathered more than 100,000 signatures protesting against the law. Russia’s foreign minister and education minister are among those Putin loyalists who have spoken out against its passing.
Yet Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s child’s rights ombudsman, urged Putin to extend the ban to other countries, saying: “There is huge money and questionable people involved in the semi-legal scheme of exporting children.” He said the 46 children who were in the process of being adopted by Americans would stay in Russia once the bill came into effect.