Even Some Russians Oppose New Law Banning Americans From Adopting Russian Children

By Patrick Goodenough | December 27, 2012 | 4:59 AM EST

In this 2004 file photo, U.S. Lance Cpl. Kevin Blackwell shows a young Russian boy from a Vladivostok orphanage how an M-240G machine gun works on the USS Harpers Ferry. A law now awaiting President Vladimir Putin’s signature will ban Americans from adopting Russian children. (U.S. Navy photo by Lance Cpl. Adaecus Brooks)

(CNSNews.com) – A controversial Russian law banning American families from adopting Russian children has generated enough opposition inside Russia to prompt a parliamentary committee’s unprecedented agreement to consider a petition against the move.

Under recent regulatory changes in Russia, any online public petition winning the support of at least 100,000 citizens within a one-year period must be taken up by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

The new “Russian Public Initiative” program has yet to be tested, but the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper gathered 100,000 signatures opposing the adoption ban bill in just two days and submitted them to the Duma this week.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the Duma committee responsible for constitutional legislation, Vladimir Pligin, confirmed that at the Duma speaker’s request, the committee would consider the petition, probably at its first meeting of the new session on January 14, the official RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Pligin, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, noted that it was unprecedented in Russia for an online petition to be taken up by lawmakers in this way.

The public initiative plan originated with an article written by Putin when campaigning early this year for a return to the presidency. He said then that it should be obligatory for the Duma to discuss any initiative that enjoys the support of at least 100,000 people.

That the adoption ban is the first subject to be taken up in this way is somewhat ironic, as Putin is widely viewed as supportive of the measure.

The bill is part of Russia’s retaliation for new U.S. legislation targeting human rights violators. The Magnitsky Act, strongly opposed by the Kremlin, is named for a Russian whistleblower who died in custody in 2009. It establishes a public blacklist of rights violators who will be denied U.S. visas and have any U.S.-based assets frozen.

The Duma last week gave final approval for the adoption ban by a 420-7 vote, and on Wednesday the Federation Council – Russia’s upper house of parliament – unanimously passed it.

If signed by Putin, it is due to take effect from January 1. At a press conference last week the president stopped short of pledging to sign the law but did indicate his support, calling it an “adequate” response by lawmakers to America’s “unfriendly” Magnitsky Act.

Despite the overwhelming parliamentary support for the adoption ban, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet is reportedly divided over the issue. Medvedev himself had declared himself in favor, but Russian media reports say Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and one of six deputy prime ministers in the cabinet, Olga Golodets, are among those opposed.

Children from a Vladivostok orphanage visit a U.S. Navy amphibious command ship, USS Blue Ridge, during a 2006 community service project. A law now awaiting President Vladimir Putin’s signature will ban Americans from adopting Russian children. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katerine A. Noll)

An estimated 500,000 Russian childen are orphans or have parents who for various reasons are unable to care for them. Most are in state-run orphanages or state-organized foster care.

According to State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, some 60,000 Russian children have found homes with American families over the past 20 years.

“The bill passed by Russia’s parliament would prevent many children from enjoying this opportunity,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations.”

The strength of feeling that garnered Novaya Gazeta 100,000 votes in two days has been mirrored in the United States, where tens of thousands of people have put their names to White House “We the People” petitions on the subject.

As of late Wednesday, 54,521 people had signed one petition, calling on the administration to identify those responsible for passing the Russian law and then place them on the Magnitsky Act blacklist of rights violators.

Two separate but similar petitions had received more than 8,500 and 12,000 signatures respectively.

The White House has pledged to formally responding to any petition receiving at least 25,000 signatures in 30 days.

Its “official response” to the Magnitsky/adoption initiatives says the administration shares the petitioners’ concerns and will continue to raise them with Moscow.

It reiterates its intention to implement the Magnitsky Act, and says the U.S. will continue to press for accountability for those responsible for Sergei Magnitsky’s “unjust imprisonment and wrongful death.”

The White House response does not refer directly to the petitioners’ calls for the Russian legislators who supported the adoption ban to be blacklisted.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow