The ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans, especially children with disabilities, hardened Mr. Putin’s image in the West as a cruel and vindictive autocrat, who used children as hostages in his political disputes with Washington. Critics said that for tens of thousands of Russian disabled orphans, foreign adoption was the only chance to find a family. Russians almost never adopt such children as they need expensive treatment and rehabilitation that are not available in Russia for free. Children with serious health problems accounted for a fair share of more than 60,000 Russian orphans adopted by Americans over the past two decades.
Mr. Obama will now come under increased pressure from the Congress to put human rights at the top of his Russia agenda. Several European countries are weighing the option of adopting their versions of the Magnitsky Act.
While the Magnitsky Act was driven by U.S. political battles, the “anti-Magnitsky” law had more to do with Russian domestic politics than with foreign policy. Apart from outlawing U.S. adoptions, the Bill allows Russian authorities to ban “politically-active” non-governmental organisations (NGO) that receive American funds or engage in activities that “represent a threat to the interests of the Russian Federation.” It also bars Russians who also have dual Russian-American citizenship from participating in political NGOs. Mr. Putin thereby sought to kill two birds with one stone: strike a blow against his foes and boost popularity among his conservative constituency by stoking anti-Americanism. In a recent poll, more than 75 per cent of Russians said that they supported the ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans.
At the same time the adoption ban met with indignation among the more enlightened middle classes and reignited urban protests that were sparked by Mr. Putin’s decision to reclaim the presidency last year. Up to 30,000 demonstrators marched through central Moscow earlier this month denouncing the ban as “cannibalistic” and branding its advocates “scoundrels.”