Russia ban on US adoption clears parliament
Russia's upper house of parliament on Wednesday unanimously backed a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children, leaving the controversial measure in the hands of President Vladimir Putin.
The rubber-stamp vote was the last legislative hurdle for a bill representing one of the toughest pieces of anti-US legislation to emerge during Putin's 13 years in power.
Putin has expressed understanding for the measure -- drafted in retaliation for a new law sanctioning Russian officials implicated in the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 -- but has not yet explicitly vowed to sign it.
The bill has already passed the three required readings in the State Duma lower house despite protests from rights advocates and the even the Russian foreign ministry.
The Federation Council upper chamber -- comprised exclusively of Putin allies and ruling party members -- passed the measure in a 143-0 vote taken after speakers took turns slamming US policies toward Russia.
"I believe that any foreign adoption is detrimental to our country," childrens rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov said after the vote.
"A country as great as Russia should not be selling its children," said Astakhov.
Putin's spokesman strongly defended the draft on Tuesday against critics who accuse it of infringing on both rights and an existing adoption treaty with Washington.
"Russia is fully implementing the rights it has under international law," Dmitry Peskov said.
The bill also includes a provision banning Russian political organisations that receive US funding.
The White House said Tuesday it intended to raise concerns with both parts of the legislation at future meetings with Russian officials -- a sign that existing tensions with Moscow over the Syria crisis were only set to rise.
"Children should have every opportunity to grow up in loving families," US President Barack Obama's national security staff said in a statement.
"Their fate should not be linked to unrelated political considerations."
Moscow's pointman on US relations conceded that Wednesday's vote was likely to add to the difficulties that have emerged in the two sides' relations since Putin's return to a third term in May.
"This weight, this ballast will act as a drag on our relations. There is no doubt about that," Interfax quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
"The backdrop (to our relations) is very bad," said the diplomat. "With everything that has been happening, the backdrop going into the new year is very bad."
The legislation came up this month after Obama signed into law the so-called Magnitsky Act -- a measure paying tribute to the Russian lawyer who died in custody after exposing a $235 million police embezzlement scheme.
The US law blacklists Russian officials allegedly involved in his death.
Magnitsky's employer Hermitage Capital -- once Russia's largest Western investment fund -- and family both believe he was tortured to death.
But Russian prosecutors this week moved to drop charges against the only person on trial in the case.
The Russian lawmakers' response has agitated cabinet members such Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs Olga Golodets also wrote a letter to Putin voicing her strong objections.
And Putin's own human rights council condemned the draft on Tuesday as potentially unconstitutional.
"The entry of this bill into law in its present form... could lead to negative consequences for the Russian legal system and in other areas," the human rights council's conclusion states.
The Russian leader now has two weeks in which to sign the legislation.
The United States remains the number one foreign destination for orphans in Russia -- a country that since Soviet times has relied on state-run homes for children and has a weak tradition of adoptions.
A total of 956 Russian children travelled to the United States last year to be adopted out of the 3,400 who found families abroad. Russians recorded 7,400 adoptions in the same period.
The new measure would enter into force on January 1 and complicate the plans of US families that have already filed adoption papers and are simply waiting for a final verdict from a Russian court.
Children's rights ombudsman Astakhov said that 46 kids whose US cases are pending would not be able to travel to their new homes if the measure became law.
"These children will be given priority assignment for adoption by Russian families," he said.
© 2012 AFP