After long threatening unspecified measures in response to the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act—the new US law which bans corrupt officials and human rights abusers from Russia from traveling to or doing business in the United States—Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has announced its idea of “reciprocity.” In return for targeted sanctions on Russian crooks and abusers, the Kremlin will retaliate against Russian children. To be precise, against the most vulnerable category of Russian children: orphans in need of adoption.
On Monday, the Duma committee on constitutional legislation approved a bill imposing a blanket ban on all adoptions of Russian children by US citizens, and terminating the work of US adoption agencies on Russian territory. The official explanation offered by United Russia point to the 19 Russian children who have died in the custody of their adoptive American parents since 1991 (the bill is named after Dima Yakovlev, or Chase Harrison, who died in 2008 after being abandoned in a hot car for nine hours).
Every single one of these cases is heart-breaking, and those responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law. But it is also a fact that 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by US families since 1991, rescued from the horror of Russia’s decrepit, violent, underfunded, and overcrowded orphanages. And there is another figure: tragically, more than 1,200 children died in adoptive Russian families between 1991 and 2006 (no statistics have been announced for the period since).
Last year, Americans held the top spot among all foreigners who adopted Russian orphans—including disabled orphans. The new law will deny thousands of children the possibility of a better future. “We will get back at America by locking thousands of children in orphanages,” wrote Boris Altshuler, head of the NGO A Child’s Right, mocking the new legislation. “This is cannibalism.” In the same sarcastic vein, opposition Duma member Dmitri Gudkov, one of a handful of Russian lawmakers opposed to the anti-orphan bill, said, “So you don’t let our murderers into your country? Then we will prohibit you from adopting our children!” Another legislator, Yelena Mizulina, compared the actions of the ruling party to those of the terrorists who use children as a “human shield.” “Because some bureaucratic scum will not be allowed into the US for shopping, thousands of tiny children will be denied a normal life,” tweeted veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky.
Hypocrisy, cynicism, and disregard for human life are nothing new for Vladimir Putin or his party. But punishing orphaned Russian children for a ban on Western vacations for Kremlin crooks is a new low even for them. If anyone needed reminding, the people in charge of Russia have yet again shown themselves for what they truly are.
Update. On Wednesday, the Russian State Duma approved the anti-orphan bill on the second reading by 400 votes to 4. The four lawmakers voting against were Dmitri Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, Ilya Ponomarev, and Valery Zubov.