Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill Friday that bars Americans from adopting Russian children, provoking anguish among U.S. families that have been waiting months, and in some cases years, to complete the process.
The legislation caps a year of increasing Russian hostility toward the United States, stoked by Putin but taken up with unexpected gusto by members of parliament. A series of measures has taken aim at what is perceived to be — or characterized as — American interference in Russian concerns, from political organizing to the defense of human rights. The adoption bill is seen as retaliation against a U.S. law that targets corrupt Russian officials.
Passage of the legislation is a benchmark in the deterioration of Russian-American relations, and unlike some of the earlier, symbolic moves, it has real consequences. Over the past 20 years, 60,000 Russians have been adopted by Americans, and officials said the measure would block the pending adoptions of 46 children.
Kim Summers of Freehold, N.J., was just weeks away from bringing home her adopted son, Preston, when the legislation hit. She and her husband adopted him on Dec. 12 and returned to the United States three days later to complete a required 30-day waiting period.
“As far as we knew until this morning, he was coming home with us,” Summers said. “What’s going on has absolutely nothing to do with parenting a child. My son was looked at by 22 Russian families before I had the chance to even fathom adopting him, and none of them wanted him.”
Senior members of the Russian cabinet had warned against the bill, saying that it punishes orphans more than it does American politicians and that it looks like a defense of corruption while unavoidably drawing attention to the sorry state of Russian orphanages.
But Putin disregarded the warnings, seemingly pulled along by the enthusiasm for the legislation in both houses of parliament.
Washington reacted sharply to the new law Friday. The State Department issued a statement saying it deeply regrets “the Russian government’s politically motivated decision.” It also expressed hope that adoptive parents and children “who have already met and bonded” would be allowed to complete adoption procedures that were initiated before the law took effect.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Putin’s action “shameful and appalling” and said the law’s effects on thousands of Russian children would be “cruel and malicious.” He said in a statement: “I often wonder how much lower the Russian government under President Putin can stoop. But to punish innocent babies and children over a political disagreement between our governments is a new low, even for Putin’s Russia.”
The issues at the heart of the U.S.-Russian relationship in the coming year are critical to the United States, primarily the continuing transit of goods into and out of Afghanistan, and Russian cooperation on Iran. So far, both topics have been kept mostly out of the fray.
For several weeks, Putin appeared to be putting the brakes on the adoption ban. He raised questions about it at his annual news conference this month, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Science and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, among others, called it ill-advised. But on Thursday, Putin said, “I have not seen any reason why I should not sign it.”
The bill has elicited strong reactions from opposition figures, who view it as a case of Russia shooting itself in the foot. Journalist Alexander Minkin, on his blog for the Ekho Moskvy Web site, described it as “cannibalistic.” With Americans placing sanctions on certain corrupt Russian bureaucrats, he wrote, Moscow strikes back by punishing its own orphans.
The move abruptly cancels a painstakingly negotiated bilateral agreement regulating American adoptions of Russians. That agreement went into effect just weeks ago.
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.