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WICKER: Russia’s adoption freeze

Is a humanitarian solution within reach?

- - Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When the Russian government decided late last year to forbid international adoptions with the United States, the heartbreak was swift and palpable. The Kremlin's political opportunism had reared its ugly head — denying orphans the chance at a better future and leaving adoptive families incomplete.

Approximately 300 U.S. families, including several in my home state of Mississippi, were in the process of adopting children from Russia when the ban took effect in January. These families had traveled across the world to meet and bond with the children they hoped to welcome into their lives. As the extensive paperwork and formalities progressed, the emotional ties grew stronger.

Today, these "pipeline" families are working tirelessly to challenge Russia's broken promises and bring attention to the hundreds of orphans still waiting for Mom and Dad. Their pleas have yet to stir a response from Russian officials, who refuse to allow the pending cases to move forward. But growing international support has inspired new hope that a humanitarian solution should prevail.

The resounding consensus by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is encouraging. Earlier this month, the parliamentary assembly of the 57-country organization overwhelmingly passed a measure I introduced to uphold the sanctity of the adoption process between nations.

Specifically, the resolution — the first of its kind for the OSCE — urges countries to settle differences in a "positive and humanitarian spirit," with the goal of avoiding the "disruption of intercountry adoptions already in progress that could jeopardize the best interests of the child." Although the measure does not carry legal weight, it bears moral authority that I hope will advance negotiations between the State Department and Russian officials in the coming months. Above all, it affirms the positive influence of family on the life of a child.

Most would agree that intercountry adoption is a sensitive issue with unique considerations. Likewise, we recognize that countries have the right to control how they conduct their adoption processes. But Russia's severing of established relationships between adoptive parent and child unfairly changes the rules in the middle of the game. In passing my resolution, the OSCE has sent a clear signal that the concerns of some 300 families in the final stages of the adoption process are legitimate, important and worthy of attention.

It is unfortunate that President Obama did not convey this message to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of Eight summit last month. I joined more than 150 lawmakers in urging the president to use the meeting to appeal directly to Mr. Putin on behalf of the children and families left in limbo. Instead, the G-8 talks were noticeably bland, with Mr. Obama failing to mention the adoption moratorium.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the troubling pattern of defiance and retaliation that has come to characterize Russia's relationship with the United States. The freeze on adoptions has brought this tense reality too close to home for hundreds of Americans. It joins a litany of grievances, from the obstruction of joint international action in Syria to the bold harboring of fugitive Edward Snowden.

Considering these affronts, it is difficult to make sense of Mr. Obama's reluctance to pressure Russia. He announced early in his presidency that the United States would "reset" relations, then made an unwarranted promise of "more flexibility" last year. That message, accidentally broadcast over a live microphone to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul, was clearly meant for Mr. Putin, who has yet to demonstrate any serious commitment to the same spirit of cooperation.

Instead, Russia seems content to isolate itself on the global stage when necessary, going to extraordinary lengths to ensure the world takes notice. The adoption ban was a clear rebuke of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which applies travel and financial restrictions to Russian human rights violators. Earlier this year, the Kremlin threatened to impose the same freeze on adoptions with Ireland if its parliament passed a similar measure.

Mr. Putin and Russian officials can try to ignore the fact that Americans have provided a loving home to 60,000 Russian children over the past two decades and given many ill and disabled children the medical care they need. They can continue to insist, unconvincingly, that the adoption ban is because Americans are unfit parents.

This tragic situation reaches far beyond differences of political opinion and Russia's anti-American public relations strategy, however. Young lives hang in the balance. As the OSCE resolution emphasizes, their well-being should be our ultimate priority. Let's not lose sight of it as we continue to press for a long overdue and earnest solution.

Roger F. Wicker is a Republican senator from Mississippi.