Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill Friday that will force thousands of Russian children who would have been adopted by Americans and brought to the United States to remain in their native country without families.
Through the week, Putin left no doubt that he had made up his mind about what some see as Russia’s biggest anti-American move in the last five years—affecting not just the U.S. government, but the American public as well. He told a State Council meeting in the Kremlin on Thursday that he saw no reason not to sign it. “For centuries, neither spiritual nor state leaders sent anyone abroad.”
The debate over what is good for Russia and what is best for the children has split the Russian public in rare turmoil about the bill among critics and supporters.
A few hours after the president signed the adoption legislation into law, Robert Schlegel, a United Russia Party Duma deputy and a former leader of the pro-Putin Nashi movement, suggested it would not apply to children with disabilities. “There are children who need help, and until we can provide that help in Russia, we should allow somebody else to do that, no matter if those willing to help come from America or any other country,” Schlegel said in a phone interview.
The bill, which arrived at the Kremlin on Thursday after passing both the lower and upper chambers in the parliament, will end a two-decade practice that brought children to thousands of homes in the United States, a leader among countries adopting Russian orphans.
Parliament came up with the bill in reaction to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bans Russian officials accused of human rights violations from traveling to the U.S. The Russian measure is called the Dima Yakovlev Law, after a Russian boy who died in Virginia after his adoptive father forgot him in a parked car for nine hours.
The bill’s supporters say that in the most recent 19 cases of Russian adoptee victims of various alleged offenses, American courts let the adoptive parents go free. At a press conference last week, Putin argued with the bill’s critics, saying Russian observers had not been allowed to monitor the court hearings of alleged abusers: “Do you think this is normal? What’s normal if you are humiliated?” he asked a critic of the law. “Are you a sadomasochist?”
The bill goes into effect Jan. 1, immediately canceling 46 pending cases involving orphans who are set to leave for the U.S. next month. Moscow-based adoption agencies still hope Washington and Moscow will find a compromise.
For many years, Americans have been traveling to Russian orphanages, now home to more than half a million children who have no parents, to adopt both healthy and ill orphans. Last year, Americans adopted 956 Russian children, 89 of them with various disabilities.
Some senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, have expressed concern about Putin breaking a bilateral agreement that regulates American adoption of Russian children.
Novaya Gazeta, one of the country’s few independent newspapers, submitted a petition to the Russian parliament signed by more than 100,000 Russians opposing the new bill. But experts doubt Putin will change his mind now.
“Putin is offended at the Americans for punishing his crooked bureaucrats, and he’s making Russian orphans pay with their lives. It’s the move of a weak politician who has no good options for revenge,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group, a Moscow-based think tank.