Two of the most powerful and presumably sophisticated nations in the world find themselves needlessly entangled in a petty political controversy that can only inflict harm on innocent individuals, namely Russian orphans and the Americans who would be only too happy to give them a safe and secure home of their own.
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, signed legislation Friday that will prevent Americans from adopting Russian children. Many families have been waiting months, and in some cases years, to complete the process, and now they're left feeling badly used for no good reason. Moreover, the conditions of Russia's orphanages are described as dismal.
The legislation, which passed unanimously in the upper house of the Russian legislature (seven legislators voted against it in the lower house), is motivated by deep and essentially nationalistic resentment of what the political establishment in Moscow has called American interference in Russian concerns. The Russians are especially angry at attempts to help organize local political groups and by Washington's criticism of civil rights abuses.
The adoption bill also is considered as Moscow's retaliation for an American law, recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, that targets corrupt Russian officials.
Despite its almost total support by legislators and Putin's decision to sign it, the bill was not without its Russian detractors. For example, senior members of the Russian cabinet had warned — correctly — that the bill would harm orphans more than it would punish American politicians and that it would convey the impression that the Russians are actually defending corruption.
The critics also noted (and in this they have already been proved correct) it would draw attention to the sorry state of Russian orphanages. Alexander Minkin, a prominent journalist, described the measure as "cannibalistic." Americans placed sanctions on certain corrupt Russian bureaucrats, he wrote, so "Moscow strikes back by punishing its own orphans."
And while Putin seemed for a while to have his own doubts about the bill — he had raised questions about it at his annual news conference earlier in December — it appears he ultimately wasn't persuaded by the critics, no matter how good their credentials. Rather, he seemed impressed by the enthusiasm for the legislation in both houses of parliament.
Also, Putin clearly was undeterred by the fact that Russia and the United States had only recently completed lengthy negotiations that put into effect an agreement designed to regulate the American adoption of Russians. In the past two decades, approximately 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans, and officials said Putin's signature on the new law would prevent the pending adoptions of 46 children.
That, of course, leaves the 46 American families that were anticipating the adoptions wondering what the future holds. The legislation, whatever its motivation, amounts to an act of cruelty to these families and to the children who were to be adopted, and it also suggests there's a certain lack of maturity among Russia's elected officials.
But then, relatively speaking, democracy remains in its infancy in a nation that so long suffered under dictatorships.
But that is no excuse for Putin's act of ferocious cruelty.
It's just a shame that innocent American civilians and Russian orphans will fall victim to the purely political wrangling between the two nations.