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What's behind Russia's bill banning US adoptions?

The bill had originally been a smaller, tit-for-tat response to US legislation, but the Russian Duma has expanded it into a much broader anti-American measure that even Putin may not approve.

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Others who've cautioned the Duma against making "emotional" decisions that might need to be corrected later include the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matvienko, and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov.

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Some analysts say the Duma is out in front of the Kremlin, in passing even more draconian laws than they are asked to, because deputies of the majority United Russia faction are still stung by the accusations of the protest movement that erupted at the time of Duma elections a year ago, claiming that the pro-Kremlin party won by fraud and voter coercion, and were therefore an illegitimate parliament.

"They are still offended by all the criticism, and the gibes that United Russia is 'the party of rogues and thieves'," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow.

"They were given the task to react to the Magnitsky Act, but they started adding all sorts of amendments onto it.... I think they are doing this just out of spite, to show the opposition that they have the power, and they can do what they want. It's very likely that Putin will play 'good cop' in the end, and remove some measures, like the adoption ban, when this lands on his desk," Mr. Mukhin says.

Adoption

Other experts say that the long-running political opposition to foreign adoptions is a key plank in the program of emerging Russian nationalists, and that genuine support for this measure in the Duma shouldn't be underestimated.

Russia has officially suspended adoptions several times in the past few years, usually amid the media storm that results anytime an adopted Russian child dies because of abuse or negligence at the hands of American parents.

About 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families in the past two decades, of whom a confirmed 19 have died in circumstances of parental abuse or negligence. In one case that led to a tsunami of outrage in Russia, a 7-year-old Russian boy was put on a plane to Moscow by his adoptive mother with a "to whom it may concern" note pinned to his clothes saying he was too much trouble to look after.

There are about 650,000 registered orphans in Russia, but Russian law requires that only those who cannot be adopted domestically – usually for health reasons – may be made available for foreign adoption.

"If they go ahead and ban adoptions to the US, we'll have to close down," says Galina Sigaeva, a representative of New Hope Christian Services, a US adoption agency that's specialized in Russia for almost 20 years, and has been through all the past crises and managed to retain its accreditation amid ever-tightening restrictions.

"We have assisted in the adoption of 140 children to the US, and we have kept in touch with all of them and followed their lives in America. This is our duty. All of those children had health problems, and had been rejected for adoption by Russian citizens. So what kind of gloomy future do children like this face if the Duma closes down adoptions to the US?" Ms. Sigaeva says.

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