Putin receives measure to ban U.S. adoptions

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MOSCOW -- The Parliament's upper chamber unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to ban adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, sending the measure to President Vladimir Putin, who has voiced support but not yet said if he will sign it.

Enactment of the adoption ban, which was developed in retaliation for a U.S. law punishing Russians accused of violating human rights, would be the most severe blow yet to relations between Russia and the United States in a year marked by a series of setbacks.

The vote in the Federal Council was 143-0, with 43 senators absent. By law, Mr. Putin has two weeks to act on the bill, but a decision is expected sooner. The bill calls for the ban to take effect Tuesday.

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who criticized the bill after the lower house passed it last week, on Wednesday posted a more restrained comment on Twitter noting the fierce disagreement that has erupted within Russian government and society. "I agree with hundreds of thousands of Russians who want children removed from political debate," he wrote. "Saddened by Federal Council vote today."

Since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency in May, Russian officials have used a juggernaut of legislation and executive decisions to curtail U.S. influence and involvement in Russia, undoing major partnerships that began after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The adoption ban, however, is the first step to take direct aim at the American public and would effectively undo a bilateral agreement on international adoptions that was ratified this year and took effect Nov. 1. That agreement called for heightened oversight in response to several high-profile cases of abuse and deaths of adopted Russian children in the United States.

About 1,000 Russian children were adopted by U.S. parents in 2011, more than any other country, and more than 45,000 such children have been adopted by U.S. parents since 1999.

Pavel Astakhov, Russia's child rights commissioner and a major proponent of the ban, told news agencies Wednesday that he expected it to be enacted and to immediately block the departure of 46 children ready to be adopted by parents from the United States. He said the adoptions would be blocked regardless of previous agreements with the United States, and even though some of the adoptions had already received court approval, and he expressed no regrets over the likely emotional turmoil for the families involved.

Mr. Astakhov, a longtime advocate of restricting international adoptions, said he would seek to extend the ban to all countries. "I think any foreign adoption is bad for the country," he said.

That remark prompted Sergei Parkhomenko, a well-known journalist and commenter, to reply tartly, "Adoption when needed is for the good of the child, not the good of the country." And he accused Mr. Astakhov of neglecting his duty to serve children in favor of serving Mr. Putin, who appointed him.

Some Russian lawmakers said they believed that the bilateral adoptions accord with the United States would be void as of Tuesday, even though Mr. Putin, at his annual news conference last week, said changes to the agreement required one-year notice by either side.

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