The Russian government had long vowed some form of retaliation after Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a law that imposed sanctions on officials responsible for the death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009. Maybe the Russians would pass a similar law targeting US officials? Maybe they would make economic investment for American companies more difficult? Maybe it was all a bluff? Instead, Russia’s parliament approved a cruel gesture — a ban on the adoption of all Russian children by American parents. On Wednesday, the measure went to the desk of President Vladimir Putin, who did not immediately say he would sign it but has coyly supported it all along.
There have been isolated cases of neglect of Russian-born children by American adoptive parents, but few believe that that fact was what really motivated Russia’s parliament to pass the measure. Putin made that clear when, in response to questioning about whether he would sign the law, he said the United States will “hold people in their prisons for years” before they are accused of any crime; it was a telling reference to accusations against Russian officials who held Magnitsky, a lawyer who had uncovered rampant tax fraud, until he died. In other words, Moscow is making barely a pretense that the adoption ban has any relationship to the fate of children. This is payback, pure and simple, by a leader whose hubris is becoming more alarming by the month.
The only hope is that Putin is facing a backlash from his own foreign ministry, where some officials recognize that the law will only punish Russian children. Putin, a man not known for backing down, is said to be weighing his options. Tens of thousands of children, and their future American parents, are waiting to hear.