Russian Lawmakers Pass Bill To Bar U.S. Adoptions

In a tit-for-tat measure, Russia's parliament has approved a bill to ban adoptions of Russian children by American citizens. President Putin has not said whether he will sign the bill, though he has voiced support for the measure. The move is in retaliation for a U.S. law that sanctions Russians accused of human rights abuses. Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Corey Flintoff about the ban.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Today in Russia, parliament gave final approval to a measure that's designed as a slap in the face to the United States. The bill would bar Americans from adopting Russian children, and it would ban U.S.-funded political groups from operating in Russia. The measure comes in retaliation for American legislation that President Obama signed earlier this month. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us from Moscow to talk about what all this means. Hello, Corey.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: The bill President Obama signed was designed to improve trade relations with Russia. How did that provoke such an angry response?

FLINTOFF: Well, the bill contained a provision that was known as the Magnitsky List. It would ban some Russian officials from entering the U.S. or keeping their money in U.S. banks. And what it was really designed to do is expose Russian officials who are alleged to have been involved in a massive tax fraud and the death of a Russian lawyer who is basically the whistle-blower who under - uncovered that crime. The lawyer's name was Sergei Magnitsky. He died in prison in 2009.

Human rights groups say he was arrested in retaliation for blowing the whistle, that he was maltreated and that he died after being denied medical aid. But in the meantime, Russian officials are furious about the Magnitsky List because they say it violates their national sovereignty and it's interference in Russia's domestic affairs.

SIEGEL: Well, explain how we got from that claim of interference to barring American parents from adopting Russian children. After all, the U.S. and Russia just negotiated a new adoption agreement; it went into effect last month. Why would the Russian parliament decide to cut that off?

FLINTOFF: Well, as an act of retaliation, it is something that can really inflict emotional pain on Americans. And I mean, it's not just the people who want to adopt Russian children. There are already tens of thousands of American families who have already adopted Russian orphans over the last 20 years or so. And so there is a constituency in America that's really emotionally involved with this issue.

At the same time, U.S. adoptions of Russian children have been a sore point with Russian officials because they see it as an admission that Russia can't take care of its own children. So it's a hot-button issue for both Americans and Russians, and it's something that will get attention in the United States.

SIEGEL: But is there a political risk here for Vladimir Putin, possibly, as well? Critics in the U.S. and in Russia claim this move actually holds children hostage in a political game.

FLINTOFF: Well, it's not clear how Putin will act in all this. He has said that he considers the anti-adoption measure to be an emotional but adequate response to the U.S. legislation, but he has stopped short of saying whether he'd sign the legislation. And, in fact, he's given himself a potential out by saying that because of this U.S.-Russian adoption agreement, if this law were passed, it wouldn't take effect for a year.

SIEGEL: And I gather that in Russia, there's been some protest against this legislation.

FLINTOFF: Well, there has been. There have been small protests outside the parliament every day that this legislation was continued. But the real sense of opposition came in the form of an online petition. A newspaper posted a petition against the legislation, and it got more than 100,000 signatures.

SIEGEL: NPR's Corey Flintoff, speaking with us from Moscow about legislation that would ban Americans from adopting Russian children. Corey, thank you.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Robert.

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