MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he will sign a controversial bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children, a defiant move against the U.S. that has angered some Russians who argue it victimizes children to make a political point.
The law would block dozens of Russian children expected to be adopted by American families from leaving the country and cut off one of the main international routes for Russian children to leave often dismal orphanages. Russia is the single biggest source of adopted children in the U.S., with more than 60,000 Russian children being taken in by Americans over the past two decades.
The bill is retaliation for an American law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators and part of an increasingly confrontational stance by the Kremlin against the West.
Putin said U.S. authorities routinely let Americans suspected of violence toward Russian adoptees go unpunished — a clear reference to Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler for whom the bill is named. The child was adopted by Americans and then died in 2008 after his father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Putin indicated that he would endorse the measure.
“I still don’t see any reasons why I should not sign it,” he told a televised meeting. He went on to say that he “intends” to sign it.
UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, while only 18,000 Russians are now waiting to adopt a child.
The U.S. State Department says it regrets the Russian Parliament’s decision to pass the bill, saying it would prevent many children from growing up in families.
Critics of the bill have left dozens of stuffed toys and candles outside the parliament’s lower and upper houses to express solidarity with Russian orphans.
Children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov on Wednesday said that 46 children who were about to be adopted in the United States would remain in Russia in case the bill comes into effect. On Thursday, he petitioned the president to extend the ban to other countries.
“There is huge money and questionable people involved in the semi-legal schemes of exporting children,” he tweeted.