Putin presser: chilling news for orphans, but warm words for Depardieu (+video)
In a lengthy session, Russian President Putin backed a bill banning US adoption of Russian children – but offered residency to Gérard Depardieu, who renounced his French citizenship over high taxes.
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But Putin stunned many by appearing to back the draft bill. "I understand [the bill is] an emotional response from the State Duma, but I believe it is adequate," he said.
"What really surprised me is that journalists asked Putin questions about the anti-adoption bill several times, in a sharp form," says Andrei Piontkovsky, a veteran Kremlin critic. "In response he read them lectures about human rights violations in the USA. From what I saw he is mostly concerned with penalizing the USA instead of the fates of real, living Russian children."
Russia's foreign adoption laws require that a child be rejected by prospective Russian parents – usually for health reasons – before being made available for foreign adoption.
"I hoped at some point Putin might wrap himself in virtuous robes and stop this law. But upon seeing today's performance, I feel that he is inhumane, cruel, and has no feelings for the children at all," Mr. Piontkovsky says.
As for the US Magnitsky List, which aims to punish about 60 Russian officials implicated in the 2009 prison death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Putin showed a flash of real anger.
"I consider [the Magnitsky List] unacceptable. Do you think it’s normal? Is it normal when someone humiliates you? Do you enjoy it? What are you, a sadomasochist?" Putin demanded of the journalist who had posed the question.
"If we are slapped, we must respond. Otherwise we’ll be constantly slapped.... What’s worse, they [imposed penalties on Russian officials] without provocation. They are up to their necks in a certain substance themselves," Putin added.
On Russia's longstanding support for the faltering regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Putin insisted that Russia's only concern is to help mediate a peaceful solution and not to prop up Mr. Assad.
"We are advocating a solution that would prevent the collapse of the region into continuous civil war.... Our goal is not to retain Assad and his regime," Putin said.
There have been rumors in recent weeks that Moscow may be moving closer to a cooperative position with the West on finding some last-ditch formula for a transitional government that would exclude hard-liners on both sides and set terms for a peaceful transition to democratic rule.
"First, people should negotiate, agree on how their participation would be guaranteed ... not first destroy everything and then try to negotiate," Putin said.
They didn't mean to insult Depardieu
Speaking of movie star Mr. Depardieu's hunt for a welcoming tax haven after renouncing his French citizenship over high tax rates, Putin displayed a surprisingly warm and understanding attitude.
"If Gérard really wants to have a residence permit or a Russian passport, you can consider it done, the issue solved positively," Putin said. "I am sure French officials didn’t want to insult Gérard, but just as any officials, they pursue their policies.... There is a saying: ‘Anyone can hurt an artist.’ I sympathize with Mr. Depardieu’s feelings."
And about the Apocalypse?
"It will all end in 4.5 billion years," Putin said. "The sun's [nuclear reaction] will end, but before that it will turn into a white dwarf ... I don’t believe the world will end this year."