They don’t call it the KGB anymore, but anyone with a normally developed sense of self-preservation will regard the FSB with a healthy measure of caution. Similarly, anyone who is interested in the life perpendicular will think twice about criticizing Russia’s perpetual president, Vladimir Putin. Those worried about the resurgence of a Soviet-style totalitarian empire can take some solace, perhaps, from the fact that Russia is a country in a demographic death spiral. Or perhaps that fact offers little solace. Putin, as Walter Russell Mead put it, may well be whistling in the dark as mother Russia declines, but I am not sure either the decline or the whistling does much for those caught in bombastic would-be dictator’s web of desperation.
What I’m thinking about at the moment is not jailed pop singers, murdered journalists, or poisoned former KGB agents. There are plenty of those. No, I’m thinking about Russia’s most helpless citizens (subjects?), the babies who might have been adopted by American families eager for children. In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, you could be shot for trying to escape. In the bad new days, Putin signs a bill banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. “Russian officials,” The Wall Street Journal reports, “portrayed the latest legislation as a tit-for-tat retaliation against a new U.S. law that seeks to punish Russians accused of human-rights violations.” Right. Leave aside the question of whether the U.S. law in question makes political sense. The outrage here is that Putin responds by punishing his own citizens, denying them freedom and a chance for a better life in America. “Critics allege that the law makes political pawns out of Russian orphans,” the WSJ writes, noting that their “living conditions can be dire and prospects for adoption often slim.” That about sums it up.
Nor are Russian babies the only pawns in this game. The legislation that Putin signed today also bans U.S. charities from operating in Russia, thus depriving Russians of the sustenance those many charities offer. As Walter Russell Mead notes in his column today, “Russia is becoming an increasingly insecure and paranoid Putinocracy that fears the political appeal of Western ideas and the organizational ability of international NGOs.” Those ideas will eventually win, but in the meantime bully Putin seems bent on distributing a lot of misery.