Over the last several years the number of children adopted by Americans from Russia has sharply declined, from 5,800 in 2005 to less than 1,000 last year. If some Russian politicians have their way, that number could drop all the way to zero.
On Wednesday, members of Parliament will consider a bill that would ban Americans from adopting Russian children. The legislation is the latest move in a battle between the U.S. and Russia over human rights. Just last week President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that imposes sanctions on Russians found to be connected with human rights abuses.
"In the last few years, it's been the second most popular choice for American families, it's been a historic program for the families to go through, there's been a lot of confidence in the status of the orphans no concerns about child trafficking," said Chuck Johnson, President and CEO of the National Council for Adoption. "Inter-country adoption seems to be a pawn sometimes that Russian politicians will use to further their nationalistic agenda, so you had a number of politicians who routinely introduced legislation that will ban inter-country adoption."
Though Russia and the U.S. have had a tumultuous relationship since the Cold War days, this latest threat of barring adoption with the U.S. stems from issues associated with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment from 1974 and the Magnitsky Bill, which was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 14, 2012.
The Jackson-Vanik Amendment was passed in the 1970s to impose trade sanctions on the Soviet Union to pressure them to allow Soviet Jews to leave the country. Eventually the Soviet Union fell and its emigration policies changed, but Congress didn't get around to repealing the amendment until this year when Russia joined the World Trade Organization.
The existence of the amendment would have meant a disadvantage for American businesses, but the U.S. was not ready to give up all sanctions. That's where the Magnitsky Bill comes in.
The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian whistleblower who died in police custody under suspicious circumstances. The bill imposes sanctions on individuals associated with the suspicious death of Magnitsky. However, Russia has responded negatively, accusing the U.S. of also being involved in multiple human rights abuses.
"That has really upset the Russians, and in retaliation they're saying they're going to suspend the regime of adoptions because they think certain human rights violations are occurring on this site," said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They also point to Guantanamo and the treatment of prisoners during the so-called "War On Terror" to say 'Don't lecture us about human rights, look what's happening in your own country.'"
While banning the adoption of Russian children in the U.S. would put somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 families in a lurch, Kupchin stresses that those who bear the brunt of the pain in this proposed ban are the orphans.
"It's barking up the wrong tree in the sense that who's being punished here are children who might otherwise might be adopted by American families, but the Russians feel that the United States is meddling in its internal affairs," said Kupchan. "I think its safe to say that this whole issue is still lodged in a kind of post-Cold War hangover where standing up to Russia plays well on Capitol Hill and standing up to Uncle Sam plays well in Russia."