Vladimir Putin’s parliament has just passed a law that forbids Americans from adopting Russian children. Their claim: evil Americans are victimizing innocent Russian children, who must be protected.
In a press statement (Russian-language link), a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church supported the adoption ban, saying that children adopted by American families were unlikely to get a “real” Christian education and therefore were likely to drift away from the faith and be denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Putin had no problem allowing Americans to victimize Russian children as long as Americans were prepared to allow him to brutalize his political enemies: for instance, by torturing them into the grave, as he did to Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky. But when a bill named for Magnitsky was passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress and signed into law, suddenly Putin became worried about the fate of Russian kids adopted by Americans. The Magnitsky law bans Russian human rights offenders from entering the United States or doing business with it. Russia’s neo-Soviet response tells you much about the nature of the state Putin is furiously building. So does America’s response: a petition has been created on the White House website asking that all those in the Russian Duma who voted to block U.S. adoptions, and therefore are in support of continuing crimes by the Kremlin against human rights advocates like Magnitsky, be added to the Magnitsky law’s blacklist. Almost instantly it exceeded its goal of 25,000 signatures, with the total still rising.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Americans don’t actually victimize Russian children, especially not compared to the way Russians treat children themselves. Life in a Russian family can be an endless horror loop, while Russians who visit the U.S. are shocked by our paradise-like existence. Statistics clearly show that Russian kids would be far better off with only American parents. Let’s also ignore the absurd asymmetry of Putin’s response: his measure “protects” Russians from Americans, while the Magnitsky law protects Russians from Russians; his measure is aimed at private actors, while Magnitsky is aimed at government figures. Putin’s measure is a parallel to attacking civilians — indeed, attacking women and children — in response to an attack on a military target.
We should also ignore Putin’s soul-crushing heartlessness in denying homes to orphans at Christmastime.
Let’s just focus on the superficiality of this move: were the U.S. to repeal Magnitsky, Putin would suddenly be just fine with American victimization of Russian kids to resume.
Of course, one must admit that Putin’s position is a difficult one. Were he to support a symmetrical response, he’d find himself pretty much at a loss. In a recent press conference, Putin lashed out at America’s human rights record in “Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo” where “they keep people in jail for years without charges.” Perhaps a symmetrical response would have Putin ban Americans connected with Abu-Ghraib or Guantanamo from entering Russia.
But then the problem would arise that the vast majority of Americans don’t want to enter Russia. Such a move by Putin would make him a laughingstock.
Conversely, the reason Magnitsky has given rise to so much sound and fury in Russia is that many, many Russians desperately want to enter the U.S., especially the wealthy ones. This paradox leaves Putin flailing to find some group of Americans that wants something, anything, from Russia. The only one he’s been able to find is the minuscule group that wishes to rescue and raise Russian children.
Just as it was fine in Putin’s eyes for Americans to brutalize Russian children before the Magnitsky law, it was also fine for them to brutalize the inmates of Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo before the Magnitsky law. Russia doesn’t take steps to fight for human rights around the world; on the contrary, Russia actively supports human-rights abusers across the globe, from Chavez in Venezuela to Assad in Syria to the Communist regime in China.
Just as in Soviet times, this knee-jerk asymmetry is becoming a hallmark of Russian society. Russia’s national cycling team was recently booted off the World Tour for cheating. Russia’s response was predictable: it told the World Tour that if it was getting banned, it wouldn’t host cycling events, not even those already promised. It took its marbles and went home, just as it did with Magnitsky.
The Sovietization of Russia is moving forward with breathtaking speed. A measure is currently moving in the Russian parliament which will make it a serious criminal offense for a TV news broadcast to contain more than 30% negative stories. That same body has already passed measures criminalizing criticism of the Putin regime that is too sharp, and measures gutting the freedom of the Internet. Harsh new restrictions are being imposed on reporters and human rights advocates, as Putin rapidly turns back the clock on post-Soviet democracy reforms.
Putin recently told reporters at a news conference that, for all practical purposes, he’s infallible.
The military rhetoric is heading back to Soviet levels as well. State-sponsored propaganda outlet Russia Today recently trumpeted the threats issued by high-ranking Kremlin figure Dmitri Rogozin to sink U.S. ships in the Black Sea. He insulted and challenged NATO, stating:
We must be frank about this. I was the Russian envoy to NATO for four years and I know what language they understand best of all.
In this context, the overwhelming passage of the Magnitsky law is a hopeful sign. Barack Obama, who has been siding with Putin since his first days in office, was exposed as a lame duck when the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate passed Magnitsky in a landslide despite Obama’s determined opposition. For the first time since Obama took office, the U.S. made a real stand against Putin in defense of American values and moral leadership. Putin’s neo-Soviet reaction shows the measure is devastatingly effective, and indeed has already drawn blood.