In human rights spat, Russia poised to target US adoptive parents

After the US Congress approved a bill to punish Russian officials involved in human rights abuses, Moscow is set to blacklist Americans accused of violating Russians' rights – including US parents accused of abusing adoptive children from Russia.

How do you say “tit for tat” in Russian?

Russian parliamentarians, incensed that the US Congress passed a law targeting human rights abusers in Russia, are expected to approve this week a retaliatory measure aimed at Americans who abuse the human rights of Russians.

Who might those Americans be? Russian lawmakers are zeroing in on the limited world of Americans who adopt Russian children.

Earlier this month the US Senate overwhelmingly passed the Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and whistleblower who died under mysterious circumstances in a Moscow jail in 2009 after he accused law-enforcement officials of corruption. The measure, which President Obama says he will sign, would freeze assets and ban US travel of Russian officials involved in human rights abuses.

In response, the Russian Duma has drawn up the Dima Yakovlev bill, named for a 2-year-old adopted Russian boy who died of heatstroke after being left in his Virginia family’s car in 2008. The law would blacklist Americans accused of violating the human rights of Russians or of committing crimes against Russians.

In particular, the law would include a list of Americans accused of abusing their adopted Russian children.

The Duma’s action reflects what Russia experts say is a marked uptick in Russian nationalist sentiment in recent years. The trend is reflected broadly in increasingly prickly US-Russia relations over everything from Syria to missile defense, and more specifically in the comments by Russian leaders after the Dec. 6 Senate passage of the Magnitsky Act.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the law “anti-Russian” and said parliaments like the US Congress should mind their national business and not “instruct others.” The deputy speaker of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, Svetlana Orlova, told reporters this week that Russians had for too long remained silent before the “double standards” practiced by the US toward their country, but she added that “those times are gone.”

Some children’s advocates in Russia have condemned the proposed law as a sideshow, saying it overlooks a more pressing national problem of child neglect and abuse.

But Russia appears ready to focus on standing up to the US. Even before the Dima Yakovlev legislation comes up for a vote, there are signs of a looming trade war as a result of the Magnitsky Act.

Magnitsky was actually approved as part of an action granting Russia new favorable trade relations with the US – known as “permanent normal trade relations,” or PNTR. The PNTR legislation did away with the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik legislation, which targeted the USSR for restricting the emigration of Jews and others seeking to leave the communist bloc.

But the Magnitsky Act appears to have reverberated louder than PNTR with Russian officials, who have suddenly slapped restrictions on US imports. Last week Russian health authorities announced restrictions on imports of US pork and beef containing a particular feed additive.

US trade officials traveling to Moscow this week are expected to try to reverse the meat import restrictions – even as they gauge the depth of anti-US sentiment over the Magnitsky measure.              

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