Russia's Adoption Ban Exposes Political Rift (+Video)

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Russia's upper house of parliament today unanimously approved a ban on US citizens adopting Russian children, a highly charged move that appears to have prompted an unusual public split among government officials.

The Dima Yakovlev bill, named after one of 19 Russian children to die due to abuse or negligence at the hands of adoptive US parents in the past two decades, now goes to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putins consideration. In his only comments so far on the anti-adoption measure, Mr. Putin said last week that it was "emotional but adequate," which is widely seen as an indication that he will sign it into law.

The legislation was originally framed as a tit-for-tat response to the Magnitsky Act, a US measure signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this month that aims to punish officials connected to the 2009 prison death of Russian whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. But the Russian legislation has been amended beyond recognition by hardline lawmakers and now looks like a shotgun law to punish US citizens who become involved in almost any kind of non-business activity in Russia.

Many experts think that Putin may yet act as the "voice of reason" and strip the ban on adoption out of the bill before he signs it.

"This whole discussion over the adoption ban has served the purpose of shifting public attention from the corrupt Russian officials targeted under the US Magnitsky Act to the problems of orphans and the dangers they face in foreign homes," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

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"It's perfectly possible that Putin will ultimately adjust the adoption ban, but leave in place many of the other tough measures in this bill that haven't gotten much attention," Mr. Petrov says. Those measures include even harsher restrictions that would prevent any US passport holder from holding a leadership post in any Russian organization that is deemed by authorities to engage in politics.

The adoption ban has also become the focus of controversy and prompted a rare government split inside Russia. This week a liberal radio station leaked news of a memo by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets warning that the proposed ban would violate Russian law and at least two treaties that Russia is party to. It would also overturn a bilateral accord on adoptions, negotiated between the United States and Russia, which came into force last month.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov have also spoken out against the anti-adoption bill. Putins spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, voiced annoyance that the governments internal disagreements were being aired in public, but still signaled support for the measure.

"Learning about official correspondence from the media is not always pleasant," Mr. Peskov told the Kommersant FM radio station yesterday. But "it would be a mistake to think that there is staunch opposition to the bill within government. On the contrary, there are many arguments in favor of it," he said.

Many Russians believe it is a national shame that thousands of children are adopted by foreigners each year. According to a public opinion survey published this week by the state-run Public Opinion Fund, 56 percent of Russians support the proposed adoption ban, while just 21 percent oppose it. …