Yesterday, in response to a bill from Congress, Russia’s parliament, the Duma, announced it would prevent U.S. officials with ties to the American prison at Guantanamo Bay from traveling to Russia. Also on the “banned” list? American parents whose adopted Russian children have died in the U.S.
The inclusion of adoptive parents highlights widespread popular anger over how Russians perceive “their” children are treated in the States.
According to The Moscow Times, the Duma plans to name its bill after an adopted Russian child who died in Virginia when his adoptive father left him unattended in a car for nine hours.
The death of two-year-old Chase Harrison (known as Dmitry Yakovlev in Russia) and his adopted father’s eventual acquittal for involuntary manslaughter caused widespread outrage in Russia in 2009. Perhaps reflecting the frenzied atmosphere that accompanies such cases in the Russian media, one politician who supports the legislation claimed Chase had been “burned alive.”
Vladimir Putin has now weighed in on the controversy, telling Russia Today that he’s more upset by the U.S. government’s non-response to the issue than the actual mistreatment of children.
“We are indignant not so much at these tragedies – even though it’s the worst thing that can happen – as at the reaction of the [US] government, a vindicatory reaction,” he explains. “That’s what bad,”
But Boris Altshuler, the head of a children’s right group in Russia, tells The Moscow Times that his country’s hysteria over adoption deaths could prevent thousands of Russian children from finding homes in America.
“It’s about the same as if there were an accident on the road and one person died, and because of this we forbid all residents from leaving their homes,” he argues. “To engage in such politics from this while ignoring our internal problems, that is very simply an attempt to revive the Cold War using children’s problems.”
Russia’s official news agency RIA Novosti reports the Duma will give the bill an accelerated hearing so President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law before the end of the year. All four parties represented in parliament support the legislation, though one MP says its passage will show Russia’s government protects “crooks and killers.”
A long running war of words
The battle between over adoption between the two nations stretches back for years, but the most recent episode is the direct result of unrelated legislation passed by Congress last week.
That bill normalized trade relations with Russia for the first time since the Cold War — a coup for American business — but also criticized the government of Vladimir Putin for its treatment of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009.
If President Obama signs the legislation, the U.S. will freeze the assets of certain Russian officials connected to Magnitsky’s detention and prevent them from traveling to America.
Russia responded by saying it would follow suit against American officials it believed were complicit in human rights violations. It also announced a ban on imports of U.S. beef and pork for safety reasons, though the Russian Embassy’s spokesperson in Washington D.C. tells Latitude News that “there is absolutely no link” between the two decisions.
The ongoing adoption controversy led Russia and the U.S. to sign a bilateral agreement on international adoption in July. So far, it seems, the deal has done little to resolve the tension.