Russia’s President Vladimir Putin vowed on Thursday to sign a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children that has added new strains to the uneasy relations between the former Cold War foes
An aide separately raised the spectre of the Kremlin eliminating all foreign adoptions as part of a patriotic drive to limit Russia’s dependence on others.
The highly contentious bill is widely regarded as the toughest piece of anti-US legislation to reach Putin’s desk during his 13-year rule — a period that saw Moscow engage in repeated squabbles with the West over foreign policy and human rights.
“I do not yet see any reason why I should not sign it,” Putin told a meeting of top officials a day after the draft was unanimously approved by the upper house of parliament.
“I intend not only to sign the law… but also a presidential decree on changing the way orphans are supported,” he said.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers put together the draft in a matter of days in response to a new US law sanctioning Russian officials implicated in the 2009 prison death of the whistleblowing attorney Sergei Magnitsky.
In addition, a separate measure targets Russia’s liberal activists by banning all domestic political organisations with funding from the United States.
The two measures’ adoption was accompanied by virulently nationalistic rhetoric from lawmakers who accused rich Americans of buying Russian children and then abandoning them to horrible fates.
Its passage also revealed cracks in the Russian leadership between those who would prefer to get tough with the United States and ministers who back a more cautious approach.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the cabinet’s social affairs chief Olga Golodets have both spoken out against it.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday added its voice of protest by urging Moscow to “let the best interests of children — and only their best interests — determine its actions.”
But Putin mounted a firm defence of the measure while accusing the United States of “acting brazenly and arrogantly” toward Russia’s point of view.
He said those who believed the law limited the opportunities of orphans failed to see the threats to Russian society posed by a steady outflow of children abroad.
“There are lots of places in the world where living standards are higher than they are here,” said Putin.
“And what — are we going to send all our children there? Perhaps we should move there ourselves?”
And he raised the spectre of Russia going to “ruin” if it continued to allow foreigners to take care of its young.
“It may seem like our resources are limitless. But this is not the case,” Putin told the government’s most senior members in a televised meeting.
“We may reach a certain point at which — once we overstep it — we will not be able to stop our ruin,” he warned.
“So we have to be extremely sensitive and attentive toward such things.”
US families adopted nearly 1,000 Russian children last year and are the number one foreign destination of the country’s orphans.
A Russian presidential adviser on children’s rights said on Wednesday that 46 pending US adoptions may be abandoned when the law enters into force on January 1.
Pavel Astakhov added after Putin’s Thursday address that Russia could abandon the practise of foreign adoptions altogether once the president launches a new Kremlin children’s support program.
“We will be ready to do that (eliminate foreign adoptions) after the adoption of the federal targeted program on orphans,” Interfax quoted Astakhov as saying.
“We are already moving in that direction,” the children’s rights aide added.