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 accused of human rights violations.
The State Duma, the lower house, voted 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. Several senior officials spoke out against the adoption ban, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and others known for hawkish views in dealing with the United States.
Ultimately, the decision rests with President Vladimir Putin, who has said that Russia must respond to the U.S. law but has not yet expressed his view on banning U.S. adoptions. The bill needs approval of the upper house and his signature to become law, and he will have a great deal of sway over the final version.
Feeling domestic pressure
Since returning to the presidency in May, Putin has used populist, and sometimes reactionary, legislation to drive much of his agenda and to suppress political dissent. The proposed adoption ban now presents an interesting test for him.
If Putin allows it to take effect, it would be the most forceful anti-American action of his new term, undoing a bilateral agreement on international adoptions ratified just 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 dutifully carried out his legislative wishes.
The Kremlin on Wednesday sought to portray the Duma's efforts as reflecting the anger of rank-and-file lawmakers over the U.S. law.
"This harsh and emotional reaction of Russian members of Parliament is well understandable," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Russian news agencies. "Certainly the executive branch's policy is more restrained but taking into account the well-known anti-Russian manifestations, Russian President Vladimir Putin understands the Russian lawmakers' position."
U.S. weighs in
The State Department did not respond immediately, but a spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, noted the prior cooperation on the issue of international adoptions. "We have worked hard with Russia to address past problems through our new adoption agreement, which the Duma has approved," Nuland said. "Hundreds of Russian orphans have found safe, loving homes in the United States, as have children from around the world."
Russian lawmakers named their bill after Dmitri Yakovlev, a toddler who died of heat stroke in a Washington suburb in July 2008 after his adoptive father left him in a parked car for nine hours. The father, Miles Harrison, was tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Other cases have inflamed public opinion, especially in 2010, when a Tennessee woman put a 7-year-old boy she had adopted on a flight back to Russia alone.