UPDATE 6-Russian lawmakers back adoption ban in dispute with US

Alissa de Carbonnel
Reuters Middle East

* Bill aims to retaliate against U.S. Magnitsky Act

* Putin hints he will sign the bill into law

* Legislation would also outlaw U.S.-funded political NGOs

* Measure likely to damage relations with Washington

MOSCOW, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Russia's lower house of

parliament approved on Friday a proposed law banning Americans

from adopting Russian children, in retaliation for U.S. human

rights legislation which Vladimir Putin says is poisoning


The State Duma overwhelmingly backed a bill which also would

outlaw U.S.-funded "non-profit organisations that engage in

political activity", extending what critics say is a clampdown

on Putin's opponents since he returned to the presidency in May.

The bill responds to a new U.S. law known as the Magnitsky

Act, passed by the U.S. Congress to impose visa bans and asset

freezes on Russian officials accused of involvement in the death

in custody of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

Washington's ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, said the

Russian bill unfairly "linked the fate of orphaned children to

unrelated political issues," while the U.S. State Department

rejected any parallels with the Magnitsky Act.

Putin hinted at a news conference on Thursday that he would

sign the bill into law once the Senate votes on it next week,

describing it as an emotional but appropriate response to an

unfriendly move by the United States.

"It is a myth that all children who land in American

families are happy and surrounded by love," Olga Batalina, a

deputy with Putin's ruling United Russia party, said in defence

of the new measures.

In a pointed echo of the Magnitsky Act, the Russian

legislation has become known as the Dima Yakovlev law, after a

Russian-born toddler who died after his American adoptive father

left him locked in a sweltering car.

The bill has outraged Russian liberals who say children are

being made victims of politics. Some government officials,

including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have expressed

reservations about the legislation.

"Children should not be a bargaining chip in international

affairs," said Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin's human

rights council.

Speaking in Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick

Ventrell said the United States is ready to work with Russia on

any concerns over adoptions, but rejected any comparisons

between the Magnitsky Act and the Russian legislation.

"It's hard to imagine a reciprocal situation," Ventrell

said. "It's Russian children who will be harmed by this


Last year, 962 Russian children from orphanages were adopted

by Americans. More than 45,000 have found homes in the United

States since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Their

parents are either dead or unable to care for them and some have

complex medical needs.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia formally informed

the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on Friday that they would

apply the WTO agreement between each other.

Russia joined the WTO in August, but the two countries have

not had full WTO relations because the U.S. Congress needed to

pass a bill first to establish "permanent normal trade

relations." It did that as part of the Magnitsky legislation.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the two countries

also reached agreement on an action plan to reduce Russian

pirati ng an d counterfeiting of American goods through improved

enforcement of intellectual property rights.


The Duma debate on adoption was peppered with patriotic

rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War. Deputies described foreign

adoptions as an embarrassment, implying Russia could not care

for its own.

The proposal was backed by 420 deputies and opposed by only

seven in the 450-seat chamber. Its easy passage reflected a

growing conservatism since Putin's return to the presidency.

The provision targeting non-governmental organisations, or

NGOs, has also upset international human rights groups, which

accuse Putin of clamping down on civil society and dissent in

his new six-year term as president following the biggest

protests of his 13-year domination of Russian politics.

"There is a huge risk that the vaguely worded provisions in

this bill will be used to clamp down on government critics and

exposers of abuses," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central

Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Some prominent NGOs will be threatened with closure as the

bill bans U.S.-sponsored political NGOs from working in Russia.

Russians who also hold U.S. passports will be unable to lead

such groups.

Russian rights activists said the latter provision

specifically targeted veteran campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 85,

a Soviet-era dissident who leads the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Putin has accused the United States of stoking protest

against him and Russia ordered the U.S. Agency for International

Development (USAID) to halt its work in the country in October.

Russian officials say they fear foreign powers will use

non-profit groups to bring about the type of street protests

that toppled governments in Georgia and Ukraine.

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