The Corner

Russia’s Orphans

The unanimous vote in the Russian Federation Council to ban the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens shows more eloquently than words ever could that the moral crisis of Russian society did not end 21 years ago with the fall of the Soviet Union.

The law must now be signed by President Putin who has expressed his support for it. It calls for the ban to take effect on January 1. Forty-six adoptions that are already in process will be halted.  Pavel Astakhov, the presidential envoy for children’s rights, said that “there was no need to make a tragedy out of it” because the children would be put in line to be adopted by Russian parents. He said that he considered any foreign adoption to be bad for the country.

Russia’s action in banning U.S. adoption is retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, which imposes a visa ban and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, an anticorruption lawyer. Relatively few Americans travel to Russia and practically none are foolish enough to keep their assets there so it was difficult for the Putin regime to retaliate for the Magnitsky Act in a symmetric manner. As a result, it decided to punish the U.S. by victimizing Russia’s own children.  

Russia has more orphans per capita than any nation in the world. Of the estimated 650,000 orphans, an estimated 95 percent are “social orphans” who have been abandoned by their parents or taken away from them. Since 1999, 45,000 children have been adopted by American parents. Included in this group have been many children with disabilities who have great difficulty being adopted in Russia.

The end of these adoptions will not end Western pressure on Russia to respect human rights, but it is a sobering demonstration of the moral vacuum in Russia created by the conviction that the individual is expendable compared to the requirements of the state. The U.S. needs to understand this mentality before proceeding with the U.S.–Russian “reset.” We are always anxious to believe that Russia is “just like us.” But self-delusion is a poor counselor. It is better to ponder the meaning of the adoption ban and draw the appropriate conclusions. We will get nowhere by pretending that the moral chasm that separates Russia from the U.S. does not exist.

— David Satter is affiliated with the Hudson Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. His latest book, It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past will be out in paperback next month from the Yale University Press. 

David Satter has written four books about Russia, including, most recently, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin, now available in paperback. He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.

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