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Magnitsky Act and Dima Yakovlev Bill Revive Cold War

January 3, 2013 ·

Vladimir Putin's pledge to improve the Russian child welfare system parallels his intention to fill the void left by not renewing Nunn-Lugar.

Vladimir Putin's pledge to improve the Russian child welfare system parallels his intention to fill the void left by not renewing Nunn-Lugar.

On Friday, Dec. 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill prohibiting future adoptions of Russian children by American citizens. At the New York Times, David Herszenhorn and Erik Eckholm explained that it

… was drafted in response to the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Obama this month that will bar Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there. The Obama administration had opposed the Magnitsky legislation, fearing diplomatic retaliation, but members of Congress were eager to press Russia over human rights abuses and tied the bill to another measure granting Russia new status as a full trading partner.

Nor are Russian concerns devoid of legitimacy. In the Washington Post, Olga Khazan reports:

Several high-profile cases of abuse also haven’t helped. Russian policymakers named the bill after a high-profile Russian adoptee, Dima Yakovlev, a toddler who was adopted by a Virginia couple and died after being left in a hot car for nine hours. And after a 7-year-old Russian boy was returned alone to Moscow in 2010 by his Tennessean adoptive mother, the outrage was so great that a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson temporarily announced a suspension of all U.S. adoptions.

Putin, in turn (the Times again) said that instead he would sign

… a resolution also adopted Wednesday that calls for improvements in Russia’s child welfare system. “I intend to sign the law,” Mr. Putin said Thursday, “as well as a presidential decree changing the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems.”

Whether or not he'll follow up is another matter. Meanwhile, the Dima Yakovlev Bill could have been avoided if the United States hadn't passed the Magnitsky Act, which amounted to poking a stick at the Russian bear. Russia also kicked the United States Agency for International Development out of the country.

The Russian government had made no secret of its unhappiness with some programs financed by the Agency … like Golos, the country’s only independent election-monitoring group, which helped expose fraud in disputed parliamentary voting last December.

Meanwhile, Russia's termination of Nunn-Lugar may also be a result of U.S. insistence on deploying missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. It claims, however, that it has enough money of its own to continue to perform the services Nunn-Lugar had been funding. But, as with caring for underserved children, it remains to be seen if Russia will follow through.

Blame Russia, for, in both instances, cutting off its nose to spite its face. But, in fact, it had been seeking to save that face when confronted by the United States with the Magnitsky Act, perceived interference by the Agency for International Development, and missile defense.