President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday that bans Americans from adopting Russian children and imposes other measures in retaliation for new U.S. legislation meant to punish Russian human rights abusers.
The law, which has ignited outrage among Russian liberals and children's rights advocates, enters into force on Jan. 1 and is likely to strain U.S.-Russia relations.
As well as banning U.S. adoptions, it will also outlaw some non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding and impose a visa ban and asset freeze on Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians abroad.
The law could 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 orphanages that are often dismal. Russia is the single biggest source of adopted children in the United States, 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.
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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.
Children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov on Wednesday said that 46 children who were about to be adopted in the United States would remain in Russia if the bill came into effect. On Thursday, he petitioned the president to extend the ban to other countries.
Would-be adoptive parents in the United States are left hanging by Putin's signing of the bill, which was passed by Russian lawmakers last week.
Among them are John and Renee Thomas of Minnetonka, Minn., Kari Huus of NBC News reported. The Thomases have already adopted Jack, 7, from Russia. When they found out he had a little brother, they began the process to try to adopt him, too. The wait has stretched to four years, and now the adoption may be in danger.
"When Jack is asked about his family, he talks about his brother," John Thomas said. "He always asks, 'When is he coming home?' We just tell him we’re waiting for the call."
More: Adoption of little brother caught in US-Russia spat
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 on Thursday repeated its opposition to the Russian measure.
"The welfare of children is simply too important to tie to the political aspects of our relationship," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "Additionally, we are deeply troubled by the provisions in the bill that would restrict the ability of Russian civil society organizations to work with American partners."
Critics of the bill left dozens of stuffed toys and candles outside the parliament's lower and upper houses to express solidarity with Russian orphans.
An online petition urging the Kremlin to scrap the bill garnered more than 100,000 Russian signatures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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