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Deep emotions run beneath Russia's adoption ban

The Duma's bill to ban US adoptions of Russian children, which passed another legislative hurdle today, appeals to Russian pride and concerns about the US.

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Bolstering those who are suspicious of adoption is a smattering of abuse cases in Russian orphanages that have seized the public attention. In one notorious case, a nurse in a southern Russian children’s home was accused of taping pacifiers to the mouths of children to keep them from crying. And cases like that of Dima and of Artyem Savelyev, whose adoptive American mother sent the then-7-year-old boy home to Russia with a "to whom it may concern" note of rejection in 2010, give Russians fair reason for pause over foreign adoptions.

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But for many Russians, the adoption of children by foreigners is a polite way of saying “foreigners are purchasing our children for export.” Some 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, and Russia trails only China and Ethiopia in popularity for Americans seeking to adopt foreign children, according to the US State Department.

Many also see it as ironic that Russia is being sanctioned for human rights violations by a country whose policies over the past decade have seared “Guantanamo” into the English language lexicon – an irony that Putin, who like many Russians has a nose for hypocrisy, clearly relished in pointing out.

“Not only are those prisoners detained without charge, they walk around shackled, like in the Middle Ages. They’ve legalized torture in their own country. Can you imagine if we had anything like this here? They would have eaten us alive a long time ago,” he said.

But regardless of the moralities involved, the fact of the matter is that there will be clear winners and losers from this ordeal.

The winners will be the middlemen, the orphanage directors, the bureaucrats, and the administrators all of whose signatures or stamps, essential to the adoption process, can yield a lucrative stream under-the-table revenues – revenues from well-meaning, would-be foreign parents with the means to pay thousands of dollars for the right to adopt a Russian orphan.

And the losers will be orphaned children who remain institutionalized. That was the point of US Ambassador Michael McFaul’s statement released Friday after the Duma vote: “The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to others issues in our bilateral relationship.”

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a man not known for pulling his punches when it comes to US policy, has voiced his doubts, suggesting that more moderate voices might stop the bill's passage. Perhaps Putin, having made his point with his press conference performance and with the performance of the malleable State Duma, will relax his rhetoric and soften the bill to open the door to foreign adoptions again, thus portraying himself as doing the best for the children.

Mike Eckel reported from Moscow for five years.

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