The Russian adoption ban

The Russian parliament has passed a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans.  President Vladimir Putin has signaled his willingness to sign the law.  It’s a remarkably straightforward act of legislative vengeance – which Putin admits, with brutal candor, has nothing to do with the welfare of the children, even though the law is named after a Russian child who died as a result of his adoptive father’s neglect.  From the L.A. Times on Thursday:

During a Kremlin government meeting Thursday, Putin lashed out at the United States for behaving ???with a defiant arrogance??? and said that he sees no reason not to sign the Russian law but needs some time to study it. His remarks were laced with sarcasm as he discussed foreign adoptions.

???There are probably many places in the world where the level of life is higher than here,??? he said in televised remarks. ???So what? Shall we send all our children there? Maybe we should all move there too, shouldn???t we????

Assuming it is signed before New Year’s, the Russian bill would take effect on Jan. 1. It would apply immediately to about 1,500 Russian children whose adoption cases are already in courts pending approval.

Russian lawmakers named the bill after Dima Yakovlev, a year-and-a-half-old boy who died four years ago after being left for several hours in a hot, locked car in a parking lot by his adoptive American father.

Over the last two decades U.S. families have adopted more than 60,000 children from Russia. Nineteen reportedly have died in accidents or from domestic abuse and neglect, figures used by Russian lawmakers in justifying the legitimacy of an adoption ban.

In reality, everyone involved understands that the Dima Yakovlev law is retaliation for an American law denying visas to Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who the L.A. Times describes as “a Russian lawyer and whistleblower who called attention to alleged official corruption.”  Magnitsky died of what might delicately be described as “neglect” in 2009, after spending a year in a hell-hole prison  He landed there after discovering financial improprieties at an investment fund which counted various high-ranking Russian officials among its investors.  Magnitsky was, in turn, charged with the very crimes he had uncovered… and prosecuted after his death.  That certainly does cut down on pesky appeals and courtroom theatrics from the defendant.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was quick to speak out against the Russian adoption ban: “I???m deeply concerned by President Putin???s announcement that he will sign the ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans, and urge the Obama Administration to forcefully condemn this action.  Over the last decade, tens of thousands of loving American couples have adopted Russian orphans, providing unconditional love, support and a quality of life otherwise unimaginable in Russia???s crowded orphanages.  In addition to helping thousands of families, these international adoptions have brought our two nations??? people closer together and served as a symbol of our growing friendship.  Now, President Putin???s adoption ban will not just deprive thousands of Russian orphans of a better life, but will cast further doubt on his commitment to human rights.”

“Where is U.S. diplomacy?” asked conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, herself the adoptive mother of two Russian children, via Twitter.  “I may have to fly to Russia myself at this point, and try to meet with Putin myself.  He can see for himself how my boys are thriving here.”  Word of advice, Laura: don’t let Vladimir make your hotel arrangements.  You might end up with the Magnitsky suite.

Ingraham went on to note that “hundreds of U.S. families are already in the process of adopting Russian children, including disabled children who will now remain institutionalized.”  The New York Times reports that Putin strove to add a veneer of genuine reform to the Revenge Against Americans Who Just Won’t Shut Up About That Magnitsky Guy Act, by promising he would also issue “a presidential decree changing the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems.”

As for the Administration diplomacy Ingraham pleaded for:

???It is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations,??? a State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said on Wednesday before Mr. Putin announced his decision.

Internally, however, Obama administration officials have been debating how strongly to respond to the adoption ban, and are trying to assess the potential implications for other aspects of the relationship with Russia. The United States, for example, now relies heavily on overland routes through Russia to ship supplies to military units in Afghanistan, and has enlisted Russia???s help in containing Iran???s nuclear program. The former cold war rivals also have sharp disagreements, notably over the civil war in Syria.

Until Thursday, these larger considerations, along with the possibility that Mr. Putin might veto the adoption bill, seemed to forestall a more forceful response from Washington.

There have long been critics of foreign adoption in Russia, very few of whom have any sustained contact with Russian orphans or orphanages.  This has led to a good deal of internal strife, as the New York Times chronicles:

Pavel A. Astakhov, Russia???s child rights commissioner and a major proponent of the ban, said the 46 pending adoptions would be blocked regardless of previous agreements, and he expressed no regrets over the likely emotional turmoil for the families involved.

???The children who have been chosen by foreign American parents ??? we know of 46 children who were seen, whose paperwork was processed, who came in the sights of American agencies,??? Mr. Astakhov said in his statement. ???They will not be able to go to America, to those who wanted to see them as their adopted children. There is no need to go out and make a tragedy out of it.???

Mr. Astakhov, who is a longtime advocate of restricting international adoptions, said he would seek to extend the ban to all countries. ???I think any foreign adoption is bad for the country,??? he said.

That remark prompted Sergei Parkhomenko, a well-known journalist and commenter, to reply tartly, ???Adoption when needed is for the good of the child, not the good of the country.??? And he accused Mr. Astakhov of neglecting his duty to serve children in favor of serving Mr. Putin, who appointed him.

(Emphases mine.)  Nicely played, Mr. Parkhomenko.  I have a modest suggestion for you, as well as the American media and diplomatic corps: maybe it’s time to go back to calling people like Sergei Magnitsky “dissidents” instead of “whistleblowers.”  Do it for the children.