Q: What do you call using 46 orphans as political pawns? A. Diplomatic hardball, Russian-style

Protest in Moscow against anti-US legislation.
Protest in Moscow against anti-US legislation.
Image: AP Photo/Novaya Gazeta, Yevgeny Feldman)
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The upper house of Russia’s parliament this morning unanimously approved a bill that would ban Americans from adopting Russian children, threatening to nullify the pending adoptions of scores of Russian children. Russian politicians say they are reacting to the deaths and abuse of Russian adoptees in the US, but they also appear to be retaliating for a new US law penalizing Russian officials linked to the prison death of a Moscow anti-corruption lawyer.

Putin has two weeks to decide whether to sign the bill. If he does, the law will end the adoptions of 46 children currently preparing to move to the US with their new families (here is one of the adoptions that is being held up). Americans have adopted more Russian children than any other foreign country since the early 1990s, according to official Russian statistics. In all, some 740,000 Russian children are effectively orphans, says UNICEF.

Despite declaring his support for the bill in a recent news conference, President Vladimir Putin has so far declined to indicate whether he will sign the bill. However, in that same news conference, Putin condemned the US law—known as the Sergei Magnitsky Act, after the anti-corruption lawyer—and accused the US of hypocrisy on human rights issues. Magnitsky died in a Russian jail in 2009 after pursuing a corruption case against senior officials in the Interior Ministry. The new law, which President Barack Obama signed on December 14, bars Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death from entering the US.