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Putin avoids stance on banning US adoptions of Russians

MOSCOW — At a much-anticipated news conference Thursday, President Vladimir Putin skirted the question of whether he would support a ban on adoptions of Russian children by US citizens, which was approved by Russian parliamentarians but requires his signature to become law.

Putin said he would have to read the text of the amendment before making a final decision and said that most US adoptive parents are ‘‘honest and decent people.’’

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However, he lashed out angrily at US officials, saying they had allowed child abuse to go unpunished and blocked Russia’s efforts to monitor adjudication of such cases.

‘‘This is about the attitude of American officials in situations involving the violation of children’s rights,’’ he said, after a Russian journalist criticized the proposed ban. ‘‘Do you consider this normal? You like this? What are you, a sadomasochist? There is no need to humiliate the country! We do not forbid adoption by foreigners in general. There are other countries besides the United States.’’

Putin criticized a law signed by President Obama last week that seeks to punish Russian citizens who are accused of violating human rights and which served as the spur for the proposed adoption ban. He said the US initiative had been put forward by officials reluctant to part with Cold-War-era prejudices.

‘‘They just cannot do without it,’’ he said. ‘‘They are trying to stay in the past. This is very bad, and it poisons our relations.’’

He went on to question Americans’ moral authority to challenge Russia’s human rights record. The US law, the so-called Magnitsky Act, is named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after trying to expose a huge government tax fraud and later died in prison, in 2009.

‘‘What are our partners in the United States worried about?’’ Putin said. “About human rights in our prisons? . . . But they themselves have many problems.’’

If Putin allows the adoption bill to go forward, it will be the most forceful anti-American action of his new term, undoing a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified just this year and crushing the aspirations of thousands of Americans hoping to adopt Russian orphans. In an unusual split within the government, senior officials had spoken out against the ban, including some, like the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who are harsh critics of US policy.

The bill still faces two more legislative votes, and even before he decides to sign or veto it, Putin will probably have huge sway over the bill’s final form when it emerges from Parliament.

The State Department said it would not speculate about what the final bill might look like but a spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, took note of prior cooperation.

‘‘We have worked hard with Russia to address past problems through our new adoption agreement, which the Duma has approved,’’ Nuland said. ‘‘Each year, thousands of children find loving, nurturing homes through intercountry adoptions, and the lives of thousands of American families have been enriched by welcoming Russian orphans into their homes.’’

Russian officials, including Putin, have promised a forceful response to the Magnitsky Act, which requires the administration to assemble a list of Russian citizens accused of abusing human rights, including officials involved in Magnitsky’s case, and to bar them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.

But they have struggled to find a response that seems reciprocal and proportional, turning to the idea of punishing Americans linked to adjudication of abuse cases involving children adopted from Russia.

Putin did not give a precise timeline for his decision.

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