As the end of a year approaches, there are any number of candidates on the international stage vying for the title of most despicable. We’re nominating a late bloomer in the race, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has shown himself willing to treat children as pawns in a policy battle with the United States.
Now we should stipulate that Putin isn’t the most evil leader of the year. That title would likely go to Syrian President Bashar Assad for his ruthlessness in putting down a rebellion in his country. He’s actually killed tens of thousands of people; Putin has “only” crushed the dreams of people in such numbers.
We’re talking about Putin’s eager signing of a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children — children who live in squalid orphanages while adoptive parents in the United States are ready to provide them homes, food, clothing, education and a level of freedom they would never otherwise know.
The law goes into effect immediately, freezing the pending adoptions of about 50 children who were within days of starting new lives and squelching the potential for thousands of others in the months and years ahead.
Americans have been adopting Russian orphaned or abandoned children for years, with thousands of stories of success, but with a few ugly episodes as well. But no one is pretending that the ban is a reaction to a few adoptions gone bad.
Story behind the story
It is clearly part of Russia’s retaliation against a law signed by President Barack Obama this month that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators. The law was a response to the case of Sergei Magnitsky. As the Associated Press reported, Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, was arrested after he accused officials of a $230 million tax fraud. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment and died in jail in 2009. Russian rights groups claimed he was severely beaten. A prison doctor who was the only official charged in the case was acquitted by a Moscow court last week.
An argument can be made that the U.S. Congress and President Obama should have curbed their enthusiasm for making the Magnitsky case the focus of legislation. While such injustices are appalling, it is not as if Congress doesn’t have other things to do and not as if there aren’t forums outside of Congress that are better equipped to address such scandals.
Still, nothing Congress or Obama did warranted the response of the Russian Parliament and president.
Over the last 20 years, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children. About 1,500 cases of adoption by U.S. families currently are in Russian courts, 52 of them in the final approval stage. There are more than 600,000 orphans in Russia.
The children in the final stages of adoption had already met and begun bonding with their waiting American families. To dash the hopes of those children and families — and to preclude thousands more from ever even beginning the adoption process — is a cynical act that exposes a cruelty streak in Putin that embarrasses the man and the nation he leads.
It is an ugly end to one year and a sad beginning of another.