MOSCOW - It looks like more orphans in Russia are going to be spending the whole year exactly where they'll spend New Year’s Day.
With the just approved ‘anti-Magnitsky’ law passed unanimously by the Russian Upper House of Parliament, American citizens are set to be banned from adopting children in Russia. This will also apply to children who are in the middle of adoption procedures. If they are still in Russia at the end of the year, that’s where they’ll stay.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will sign the bill into law.
The new Russian legislation is a response to a law recently signed by U.S. President Barack Obama that establishes normal trade relations with Russia for the first time in decades, but which also includes the so-called “Magnitsky” Act that calls for sanctions against any Russian who was involved in the 2009 death of lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
Russian leaders, including Putin, are incensed by what they consider interference with an internal matter. During the Upper House deliberations on Wednesday in Moscow, senators were asked to vote on the law between operas and ballets put on for the upcoming New Year’s holiday. On the Dec. 25, the Constitutional Committee stamped its approval on the anti-adoption law, just as all the other committees who reviewed the law had done.
There have been some high-level objections, most notably from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but otherwise the law has mostly sailed through committees, propelled by waves of anti-American rhetoric.
The mood was obvious from the comments made by senators as they discussed the bill. Valerii Snyakin, who sits on the international relations committee of the senate-like chamber known as the Federation Council, said that the United States had reignited Cold-War style relations.
There was no real debate, just a chorus of criticism against Washington. “We didn’t start it,” added Senator Gennady Makin. “Whoever comes to Russia with a sword will die by the sword.”
Other senators implied that Russian orphans were given away as gifts by American adoptive parents, or talked about how the United States had "created" a large number of orphans in Serbia. Others demanded to know about the living conditions of the Russian children who were adopted by families in rural America. At least one took a more general approach to the ban, saying that the lawmakers should pass a law forbidding all foreign adoptions in the spring, since sending kids abroad is, he said, immoral.
And the children?
One senator, Evgeny Tarlo, took it a step further. He suggested starting a parliamentary inquiry into the fate of all Russian children adopted by families in the United States. “On the Internet, there are people in America saying that we lawmakers are cannibals and child-killers because of this law,” he added. “There are petitions that have gathered 50,000 signatures that would put all Russian Duma members on the ‘Magnitsky list,” forbidding them from travel in the United States."
Some 1,000 Russian children were adopted in 2011 by parents from the United States, the leading destination. More than 45,000 such children have been adopted by American parents since 1999, the New York Times reports.
There was only one lawmaker who raised any concrete questions. It was Zinaida Dragunkina, the head of the education committee. “What are we going to do with the kids now?” she asked, “Out of 700,000 Russian children in state care, 200,000 of them are eligible for adoption. There are only 18,471 Russian citizens who are currently waiting to adopt a child, and all of them insist on a ‘healthy child.’” The speaker then brought the law to a vote. There were 19 senators absent, but none of them were gone because of the vote - and six sent letters explicitly stating their support for the law. It was adopted by all 143 senators present.
By 4 p.m. the senators were continuing their holiday program, packed into an improvised concert hall for a show that would be followed by a banquet.
Valentina Matviyenko, the Chairman of the Federation Council in Russia answered one last question from journalists, about whether there had been pressure on the senators to pass the bill. “It’s hard to put pressure on senators, they are strong adults. We have thought about it long and hard, and came to the conclusion that we needed to respond to the Magnistky list.” As if on cue, the overture of the symphony sounded.