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Thursday, December 20, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.

Ban on U.S. adoptions advances in Russia

By David M. Herszenhorn
The New York Times

MOSCOW — The Russian Parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a measure that would prohibit the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. The move was in retaliation for a law signed by President Obama last week that seeks to punish Russian citizens who are accused of violating human rights.

The vote in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, was 400-4, with two abstentions, and the lawmakers’ enthusiasm for the measure showed the opening of a rare split at the highest levels of the Russian government.

Ultimately, the decision rests with President Vladimir Putin, who has said Russia must respond to the U.S. law but has not expressed his view on banning adoptions outright. The bill needs his signature to become law, and he will have a great deal of sway over the final version of it that emerges from Parliament.

Since returning to the presidency in May, Putin has used populist, and sometimes reactionary, legislation by the Duma to drive much of his agenda and to suppress political dissent. The proposed adoption ban presents an interesting test for him.

If Putin allows it to go forward, it would be the most forceful anti-U.S. action of his new term, undoing a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified this year and crushing the aspirations of thousands of Americans hoping to adopt Russian orphans. More than 45,000 such adoptions have taken place since 1999.

But if Putin maneuvers to block the measure, he would be at odds with United Russia, the party that nominated him for president and has carried out his legislative wishes.

The State Department did not respond to the action by the Duma, but a spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, noted the prior cooperation on international adoptions.

“Hundreds of Russian orphans have found safe, loving homes in the United States, as have children from around the world,” Nuland said.

The bill is subject to approval by the Federation Council before it becomes law, but the deputy speaker, Alexander Torshin, predicted it would pass easily.

The U.S. law, which Obama signed Friday, is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after trying to expose a huge government tax fraud. Magnitsky died in prison in 2009, and there were accusations that he had been denied proper medical care.

The law requires the administration to develop a list of Russian citizens accused of abusing human rights, including officials involved in Magnitsky’s case, and bar them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other financial assets there.

The Russian government reacted furiously to the Magnitsky bill, calling it hypocritical and pointing to suspected U.S. rights abuses, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, in secret CIA prisons around the world and at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Russian officials also expressed anger that other Western countries, including Canada and Britain, are considering their own version of the Magnitsky legislation.

While many Russians, especially the wealthy, enjoy traveling to the United States, owning property there and maintaining investments in U.S. financial institutions, relatively few Americans vacation, own real estate or maintain financial assets in Russia.

Russian lawmakers named their bill after Dmitri Yakovlev, a toddler who died of heat stroke in a Virginia suburb of Washington in July 2008 after his adoptive father left him in a parked car for nine hours. The father, Miles Harrison, was tried for manslaughter and acquitted.

Other cases of mistreatment of adopted Russian children have inflamed public opinion, especially a 2010 incident in which a Tennessee woman put the 7-year-old boy she had adopted on a flight back to Russia, alone.

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