Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: REUTERS

A BILL banning Americans from adopting Russian children went to President Vladimir Putin for his signature on Wednesday after winning final approval from parliament in retaliation for a US law meant to punish Russian human rights abusers.

Mr Putin has strongly hinted he will sign the bill, which also outlaws some US-funded non-governmental groups and hits back at US sanctions by imposing visa bans and asset freezes on Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians.

The Federation Council, Russia’s upper parliament house, voted unanimously to approve the bill, which has clouded US-Russian relations and outraged liberals who say lawmakers are playing a political game with the lives of children.

The bill has drawn unusual criticism from some government officials including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Olga Golodets, a deputy prime minister who said it may violate an international convention on children’s rights.

Mr Putin has described it as an emotional but appropriate response to US legislation he said was poisoning relations.

US President Barack Obama this month signed off on the Magnitsky Act, which imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of human rights violations, including those linked to the death in custody of an anti-graft lawyer in 2009.

The ban on American adoptions takes Russia’s response a step further, playing into deep sensitivity among Russians — and the government in particular — over adoptions by foreigners, which skyrocketed after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The bill is named for Dima Yakovlev — a Russian-born toddler who died of heat stroke when his adoptive American father forgot him in a car.

Moral grounds

“It is immoral to send our children abroad to any country,” Federation Council deputy Valery Shtyrov said in a one-sided debate peppered with hawkish rhetoric before the 143-0 vote.

Child rights advocates say the law, due to take effect on Jan. 1 if signed by Mr Putin, will deprive children of a way out of Russia’s overcrowded orphanage system.

“This is the most vile law passed since Mr Putin came to power,” opposition activist Boris Nemtsov said, adding that he was certain the president would sign it. “Putin is taking children hostage, like a terrorist”.

Police said they had arrested seven people protesting against the law on Wednesday outside the Federation Council.

Nevertheless, lawmaker Gennady Makin said the Magnitsky Act demanded a tough response.

“He who comes to Russia with a sword dies by that sword,” he said.

The dispute adds to tension in US-Russia ties already strained over issues ranging from Syria to the Kremlin’s treatment of opponents and restrictions imposed on civil society groups since Mr Putin, in power since 2000, began a new six-year term in May.

The Russian bill would outlaw US-funded “non-profit organisations that engage in political activity”, which Mr Putin accuses of trying to influence Russian politics.

Russia ejected the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which funds Russian non-governmental groups, in October, and Mr Putin has signed a law forcing many foreign-funded organisations to register as “foreign agents” — a term that evokes the Cold War.

Americans affected by the visa ban could include those involved in the prosecution of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trader serving a 25-year prison term in the United States after an arrest and trial condemned as unfair by Moscow.