Russia's ban on US adoption devastates American couples

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to sign a bill that bars Americans from adopting Russian children has provoked anguish among US families who 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.

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 website, 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.

All year long, politicians in parliament and the Kremlin railed against the prospect that the U.S. Congress would pass a law in honor of the late whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, targeting the corrupt Russian tax and police officials who had a hand in his case. After Congress passed the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law this month, Russia's response was the adoption measure.

In a statement, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said: "We have repeatedly made clear, both in private and in public, our deep concerns about the bill passed by the Russian parliament. . . . The welfare of children is simply too important to tie to the political aspects of our relationship."

Putin said Thursday that he will issue decrees intended to improve conditions in orphanages and make adoption more palatable for Russian families. He noted approvingly that in some of the most violent regions of the Caucasus, children of those who have died are taken in by relatives, in contrast to the rest of the country.

The Russian government's ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov, said the country can phase out all its orphanages in five to seven years. He said it should ban all foreign adoptions, not just those by Americans.

Ilya Yashin, a young opposition leader, said in a tweet that Astakhov's position represented "cynicism beyond limits." The newspaper Novaya Gazeta said 100,000 people had signed an online petition against the bill. The Putin-appointed Human Rights Council said the legislation punishes the innocent and opens up new ground for corruption.

Sarah Mraz, director of international adoption programs at Wide Horizons for Children, said the Massachusetts-based child-welfare organization spent the day counseling families.

"It has been very difficult for families to understand that politics can supersede the importance of a child to have a family," she said. "It's devastating to the families."

The legislation would still allow Russian children to go to the United States if they are taken in by relatives, and critics suggested Thursday that interested couples would find ways to "buy" family connections.

The Russian legislation also draws even more attention to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. That law places financial and visa sanctions on officials connected to the arrest, imprisonment and death of Magnitsky, a lawyer who unearthed a $230 million tax fraud and was subsequently arrested by the same police officers who he said were carrying out the fraud. He died in jail in 2009. According to his supporters, he had just been given a severe beating.

That tax fraud involved senior officials of the tax agency as well as police. Hermitage Capital, Magnitsky's client, has tracked millions of dollars of overseas financial transfers by those officials and uncovered other, similar cases.

The American law struck a nerve with Russian officials, who have denounced it. Legislators named their retaliatory bill the Dima Yakovlev law, after a Russian toddler who died in Virginia when his adoptive father left him unattended in a locked car on a hot July day. The father was later acquitted of charges of involuntary manslaughter, sparking strong Russian criticism.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, 19 Russian adoptees have died in the United States in the past 20 years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick