- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MOSCOW — Defying a storm of domestic and international criticism, Russia moved toward finalizing a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, as Parliament’s upper house voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a measure that President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will sign into law.

The bill is widely seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation against an American law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. It comes as Putin takes an increasingly confrontational attitude toward the West, brushing aside concerns about a crackdown on dissent and democratic freedoms.

Dozens of Russian children close to being adopted by American families now will almost certainly be blocked from leaving the country. The law also cuts off the main international adoption route for Russian children stuck in often dismal orphanages: More than 60,000 Russian youngsters have been adopted in the United States in the past 20 years. There are about 740,000 children without parental care in Russia, according to UNICEF.

All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, which has sparked criticism from both the United States and Russian officials, activists and artists, who say it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape the squalor of orphanage life. The vote comes days after Parliament’s lower house overwhelmingly approved the ban.

Seven people with posters protesting the bill were detained outside the Council before Wednesday’s vote. “Children get frozen in the Cold War,” one poster read. Some 60 people rallied in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.

The bill is part of larger legislation by Putin-allied lawmakers retaliating against a recently signed U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Although Putin has not explicitly committed to signing the bill, he strongly defended it in a press conference last week as “a sufficient response” to the new U.S. law.

Originally Russia’s lawmakers cobbled together a more or less a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. law, providing for travel sanctions and the seizure of financial assets in Russia of Americans determined to have violated the rights of Russians.

But it was expanded to include the adoption measure and call for a ban on any organizations that are engaged in political activities if they receive funding from U.S. citizens or are determined to be a threat to Russia’s interests.

Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov told the Interfax news agency that 46 children who were on the verge of being adopted by Americans would stay in Russia if the bill is approved — despite court rulings in some of these cases authorizing the adoptions.

The ombudsman supported the bill, saying that foreign adoptions discourage Russians from adopting children. “A foreigner who has paid for an adoption always gets a priority compared to potential Russian adoptive parents,” Astakhov was quoted as saying. “A great country like Russia cannot sell its children.”

Russian law allows foreigners to adopt only if a Russian family has not expressed interest in a child being considered for adoption.

Some top government officials, including the foreign minister, have spoken flatly against the adoption law, arguing that the measure would be in violation of Russia’s constitution and international obligations.

But Senator Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Council’s foreign affairs committee, referred to the bill as “a natural and a long overdue response” to the U.S. legislation. “Children must be placed in Russian families, and this is a cornerstone issue for us,” he said.

Margelov said that a bilateral Russian-U.S. agreement binds Russia to give notice of a halt to adoptions 12 months in advance. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that the president would consider the bill within the next two weeks.

The measure has become one of the most debated topics in Russia.

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