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Updated Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 05:52 AM

Russia moves to ban adoptions by parents from U.S.

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
The New York Times

MOSCOW — The upper chamber of Parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to ban adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, sending the measure to President Vladimir Putin, who has voiced support but not yet said if he will sign it.

Enactment of the adoption ban, which was developed in retaliation for a U.S. law punishing Russians accused of violating human rights, would be the most severe blow yet to relations between Russia and the United States in a year marked by setbacks.

Putin has two weeks to act on the bill, but a decision is expected sooner. The bill calls for the ban to take effect Tuesday.

Since Putin returned to the presidency in May, Russian officials have used a juggernaut of legislation and executive decisions to curtail U.S. influence and involvement in Russia, undoing major partnerships that began after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In September, the Kremlin ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to cease operations here, shutting a wide portfolio of public health, civil society and other initiatives. And officials announced plans to terminate a joint effort to dismantle nuclear, chemical and other nonconventional weapons known as the Nunn-Lugar agreement.

Russia also passed a law requiring nonprofit groups that get financing from abroad to register as "foreign agents," sharply limiting the ability of the United States to work with good-government groups, and another law broadening the definition of treason to include "providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organization."

The adoption ban, however, is the first step to take direct aim at the American public and would effectively undo a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified this year and took effect Nov. 1. That agreement called for heightened oversight in response to several high-profile cases of abuse and deaths of adopted Russian children in the United States.

Pavel Astakhov, Russia's child-rights commissioner and a major proponent of the ban, told news agencies Wednesday that he expected it to be enacted and to immediately block the departure of 46 children ready to be adopted by parents from the United States. He said the adoptions would be blocked regardless of previous agreements with the U.S. and even though some of the adoptions had already received court approval, and he expressed no regrets over the likely emotional turmoil for the families involved.

Astakhov, a longtime advocate of restricting international adoptions, said he would seek to extend the ban to all countries.

"I think any foreign adoption is bad for the country," he said.

That remark prompted Sergei Parkhomenko, a well-known journalist and commenter, to reply tartly, "Adoption when needed is for the good of the child, not the good of the country." And he accused Astakhov of neglecting his duty to serve children in favor of serving Putin, who appointed him.

Some Russian lawmakers said they believed that the bilateral agreement on adoptions with the United States would be void as of Tuesday, even though Putin, at his annual news conference last week, said changes to the agreement required one-year notice by either side.

The proposed ban has opened a rare split at the highest levels of the Russian government, with several senior officials speaking out against it. And it has provoked a public outcry and debate, with critics of the ban saying it would most hurt Russian orphans, many of whom already are suffering in the country's troubled child-welfare system.

In their debate Wednesday, lawmakers said they felt compelled to retaliate for a law signed by President Obama earlier this month that will punish Russian citizens accused of violating human rights, by prohibiting them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.

Lawmakers also said that Russia, where more than 650,000 children live without parental supervision, should take care of those children on its own. At the same time, the lawmakers acknowledged flaws in the system and on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for measures to make adoption by Russian citizens easier.

"The attitude toward the protection of parenthood and childhood has to change drastically on every level," the resolution said, citing excessive bureaucracy, lack of financing for children's medical care and insufficient efforts to promote adoption.

"We need to set a plan for the future," said Valery V. Ryazanksy, a senator from the Kursk region. Then, reiterating a slogan adopted by many lawmakers in recent days, he declared: "Russia without orphans!" Gennady I. Makin, a senator from Voronezh, gave it a slight twist: "Russia without orphanages."

Child-welfare advocates have mocked this sort of rhetoric, noting that more than 80,000 children were identified as in need of supervision in 2011 and that the country had been unable to find homes for the vast majority of 120,000 children eligible for adoption.

There were slightly more than 10,000 adoptions in Russia in 2011, about 3,400 of which were by foreigners.

In addition to banning adoptions by Americans, the bill approved Wednesday would impose sanctions on U.S. judges and others accused of violating the rights of adopted Russian children in the United States.

The bill's focus on adopted children also showed the Russian government as largely vexed in trying to find a reciprocal response to the new U.S. human-rights law. Russians, especially wealthy ones, travel often to the U.S. and own property there, but Americans travel in relatively small numbers to Russia and typically do not maintain financial assets here.

A number of cases involving the abuse or even deaths of adopted Russian children in recent years have generated publicity and outrage in Russia.

The bill is named in honor of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who was adopted by Americans and then died in 2008 after his father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours.

And in 2010, a woman from Tennessee bought a one-way ticket to Russia for the 7-year-old Russian boy she had adopted but said she could no longer take care of. The boy had been adopted through Renton-based World Association for Parents and Children (WACAP), one of the largest international nonprofit adoption agencies in the world.

Officials at WACAP could not be reached for comment Wednesday about the proposed ban.

This story contains information from Seattle Times archives and from The Associated Press.

By the numbers

About 1,000 Russian children were adopted by U.S. parents in 2011, more than any other country, and more than 45,000 have been adopted by U.S. parents since 1999.



President Vladimir Putin hasn't said he will sign bill.




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