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Putin shows Russian insecurity in signing ban on US adoption of orphans

Russia's ban on US adoption of orphans is retaliation for a US law that targets human-rights abusers in Russia. Moscow's response reveals one of its greatest weaknesses, a deep-seated national sense of insecurity. Now Russians themselves must demand better for their children.

By Mark Nuckols / December 28, 2012

Children play in their bedroom at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Dec. 19. Russian President Vladimir Putin today signed a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children in retaliation for a US law that targets Russian human rights abusers. Op-ed contributor Mark Nuckols writes: 'America is the foreign country that takes in the largest number of Russian orphans.'

Vladimir Konstantinov/Reuters

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Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin today signed legislation that ban Americans from adopting Russian children. It’s a move that reveals Russia’s deep insecurities – and worse, makes children a pawn in a political dispute.

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The Duma, or lower house of parliament, which overwhelmingly passed the legislation, has for years held loud and anger-filled hearings into the alleged mistreatment of Russian orphans by their adoptive American parents. The political street theater has usually been nothing more than a means of expressing indignation at America’s occasional failings to protect adopted children and as a way to distract the public from Russia’s poor record with its woefully neglected orphanages.

This time, the motivation is a fervent desire to retaliate against the US for the recent passage and enactment of the Magnitsky Act. The new law requires the US secretary of State to compile a list of Russian officials it believes are complicit in the 2009 death of Moscow anti-corruption lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances while in jail, and of others involved in gross human rights violations.

Under the Magnitsky law, Russian officials on the list will be denied visas to the US, and their assets in US financial institutions will be frozen. The Kremlin literally hasn’t known how to effectively respond and its instinctive and reflexive responses to Washington are likely to be both ineffective and to exacerbate its problems.  

First, Russian authorities decided to ban the import of American beef and pork because of a feed additive that Russian regulators have somehow suddenly discovered is allegedly unsafe for Russian consumers. The exclusion from the Russian market of American meat exports will only cause US exporters to ship these products to the next most available export market. This measure will cost US producers a few million dollars a year at most, while also increasing costs for Russian consumers, which is hardly an impressive retaliatory measure designed to shock and awe.

The Duma discussed the creation of various “blacklists” of US  officials and other citizens who will be denied visas and whose Russian bank accounts will be frozen. The proposals were met with widespread ridicule, and merely underlined the obvious fact that most Americans don’t think of Russia as either the safe haven of choice for their savings or a particularly desirable place for a second home. The measure merely provided new fodder for humorists bent on mocking Russia’s officialdom. Nonetheless, the just signed legislation creates such a blacklist, notwithstanding its obvious ineffectiveness.

The best thing Russian authorities could have done would have been to vigorously investigate the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and to bring any guilty parties to justice. Perversely, they may now resist this course of action because of the perception that it was done in response to American legislation.

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