Russia and the West

By David Satter

The ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children that was signed into law December 28 by Russian president Vladimir Putin is a clear sign that Russia is moving toward an explicit moral and psychological break with the West.

The ban is part of a law enacted in response to the passage in the U.S. of the "Magnitsky Act," a law that imposes a visa ban and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, an anticorruption lawyer. The Russian foreign ministry called the Magnitsky Act a "performance in the theater of the absurd" and attributed its passage to a "vindictive desire to get even" for Russia's "principled" line in world affairs.

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The first part of the law provides for the suspension of the activities and freezing of the accounts of Russian NGOs that receive U.S funding and whose activities pose a "threat to the interests" of Russia. The vagueness of the wording makes it possible to close down NGOs that receive U.S. funding at will. Almost all of these NGOs work on behalf of democracy and the rule of law.

But it is the adoption ban, a second measure in the same bill, that demonstrates the collision course on which Russia and the West are now set. It bans the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, cancelling the provisions of the U.S.-Russia agreement on cooperation in adoptions signed in July 2011. Forty-six adoptions that are already in process will be halted.

The majority of Russians react negatively to the adoption of Russian children by foreigners but the problem of parentless children in Russia is severe. In 2011 alone, there were 82,117 children without parents in Russia, of which only 10,816 were adopted or 13 per cent. Of these children, 3,400 were adopted by non-Russians and 978 by Americans. Among the Russian children adopted by Americans were children with disabilities who have a very difficult time being adopted in Russia.

The adoption ban is dedicated to Dima Yakovlev, a Russian child who suffocated when his American adoptive parents left him in a sealed car. According to State Department figures, from 1999 to the present, 45,112 Russian children were adopted by American citizens. Of these, six died as a result of cruel treatment by their parents and another 15 died as a result of accidents and various illnesses. In Russia, it is estimated that 1,200 children have died in Russian adoptive families between 1991 and 2006.

In fact, Russian deputies made no particular effort to hide their lack of concern for Russia's orphans. Ekaterina Lakhova, one of the bill's sponsors, said, these children "will stay in Russia, in their motherland, and that's that." Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another supporter of the bill, said, "millions of children dream of living in an orphanage."

The confrontation with the U.S. was a product of the desire of the Russian ruling oligarchy to steal in Russia and enjoy the benefits in the West. It was inevitable that Western society and Western parliaments would sooner or later learn the details of a particularly horrifying case like the torture and murder of Magnitsky for fighting the theft of state resources by Russian officials and act to cut off access for these officials to the West. To do otherwise would increasingly resemble complicity.

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FPRI Senior Fellow David Satter is the author most recently of It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, which will be out in paperback in January from the Yale University Press.

This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is republished with permission.

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