Russia is threatening to ban Americans from adopting Russian children in retaliation for a new US law that forbids Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from travelling to the US.
The proposed ban has sparked an outcry among Russia’s human rights community and opposition, who have accused the country’s rubber-stamp parliament of holding children hostage to politics.
Members of the ruling United Russia party are expected to introduce amendments with the adoption ban on Wednesday, when the parliament considers on a crucial second reading a new bill that would ban Americans who have been “implicated in violations of rights of Russian citizens”. The bill was given initial approval on Friday.
“I think it will be approved,” Sergei Neverov, the deputy speaker of the Duma, said this week.
Yet the reaction to the move may have forced the government to change tack. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, said late on Tuesday that he thought the ban was “not right”.
“The Russian foreign ministry thinks it is not right to forbid Americans from adopting Russian children, but the US must take responsibility for the adoption of Russians,” Lavrov said, according to Russian news agencies. “I am sure that, in the end, the Duma will take an informed decision.”
Russian officials have been seething at Barack Obama’s signing of the Magnitsky Act on Friday. The new law imposes a visa ban and financial sanctions on Russians implicated in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died an excruciating death in jail while investigating corruption.
The Russians have named their bill after Dima Yakovlev, a 21-month-old who died in the US after his adoptive father left him locked in a car for nine hours. A US court acquitted the father of charges of involuntary manslaughter. Yakovlev is one of 19 adopted Russian children who have died in the US since the early 1990s, Russian lawmakers allege.
Kremlin critics responded by noting the high death rate among children inside the country as well as the woefully poor state of Russian orphanages, which remain filled to the brim with children seeking homes. According to RIA Novosti, a state-run news agency, around 1,220 adopted children died in Russia in the 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, including 12 who were killed by their parents.
Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, called the proposed bill “absolutely abnormal, cynical and shameless”.
“So it turns out that if suddenly the Americans cancel the law, we’ll give them children. What is that? It’s trading in children. This is a monstrous thing that brings shame to the country,” he said, according to Interfax.
Even some inside government expressed shock at the proposed measure. “The logic is to be ‘an eye for an eye’, but the logic is incorrect because it could harm our children who cannot find adopters in Russia,” Dmitry Livanov, minister of education and science, wrote on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin’s press secretary said on Tuesday that the president remained undecided about whether to support the bill. Yet Putin reportedly told lawmakers on Monday: “What bothers us most aren’t the tragedies, although they are the scariest thing that could happen, but rather authorities’ reaction to them: exoneration. That’s the bad part.”
The proposed bill comes as Russian-US relations spiral ever lower following Putin’s return to the presidency.