As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin today signed a bill banning adoption by Americans of Russian orphans.
The move by Russia is widely viewed as retaliation for a new U.S. law limiting travel and financial transactions by Russians charged with significant human rights abuses. The truth is that Russia’s motivations run much deeper.
The immediate effect of the new law is that roughly 1,000 children who otherwise would have found families in the U.S. in 2013 will likely continue to live without families—primarily in orphanages. It appears that even most in-process adoptions will be halted, with no immediate hope of change.
More than 45,000 Russian children have been adopted to the U.S. since 1999—with just under 1,000 welcomed into U.S. homes last year.
Among other things, the bill also severely curtails the work of nonprofits receiving funding from the U.S. These new restrictions on U.S.-funded nonprofits purport to limit only “political” activities, but they likely will be used to quash a wide variety of U.S.-funded humanitarian services as well.
To understand why Russia would take such actions—which will harm the most vulnerable of their own country far more than anyone else—one must look beyond the recent diplomatic tit-for-tat.
Anyone in Russia age 40 or older can remember vividly growing up in a country that confidently stood toe to toe with the U.S. They viewed themselves as equals, and often superior, in everything from scientific achievement and athletic competition to military might. The Russian bear was fiercely proud, and to be feared.
With the collapse of communism that all ended. In a matter of years, a nation that had stood as one of the world’s two great superpowers was reduced to – in many regards – 3rd world status.
For a brief window, Russians turned to the U.S. and other western nations with hopes of finding solutions to the financial, moral and social disintegration wrought by communism. But most of the political and economic answers provided by the West were soon recognized to be shallow and simplistic. Meanwhile, hordes of new “businessmen” rose to profit from the chaos of corrupt capitalism, many of them former communist officials and Mafiosos.
Hopes of salvation from the West turned to disillusionment, which soon became seething bitterness. Former greatness. Wounded pride. Profound struggles. A decade of un-challenged American triumph. It did not take long for all of this to harden into a posture of opposing most anything the Americans wanted, from the removal of Saddam Hussein and the defensive NATO missile shield in Poland to the current efforts to depose Bashar Assad.
This current ban on adoption must be understood first and foremost in this context.
Russia, of course, is not the first to constrict foreign adoption due to issues of national pride. Many other nations have chosen to relegate their orphans to the streets or orphanages of their home country, rather than allow them to find homes abroad. Tragic as these decisions are, they can also be understood. No doubt, many Americans would hear vanity urge them to do the same if adoptions from the U.S. to other nations became highly visible.
Meanwhile, the Russian politicians who promoted the new law often spotlighted the handful of recent highly-publicized cases of poor treatment by Russian children at the hands of American adoptive parents. This included the Tennessee mother who sent her adopted son back to Russia with no more than a note indicating she did not want him.
Such tragic cases should be taken seriously as reminders of the need for robust pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption support. But as justification for the new Russian policy, they are entirely disingenuous. In fact, known cases with such tragic endings constitute roughly 1-per-3000 of Russian adoptions in the past dozen years. Meanwhile, I’d easily estimate that tragic endings face 1 in every 2 Russian orphans who isn’t adopted.
The bottom line is that Russian nationalists like Vladimir Putin desire to do anything they can to poke America in the eye—regardless of the collateral damages. A ban on U.S. adoptions and a crushing blow to many U.S. funded humanitarian nonprofits is just the latest attempt.
Americans appalled at such actions should acknowledge that we’d likely be tempted to similar choices had we walked a road as painful as the one Russians have over the past decade.
And yet, the outrage still is justified: not for our sake, but for the children who could have celebrated next New Year’s eve with a family…but instead will face the deprivation, abuse and struggle of life without one.