Russia's parliament unanimously approved a ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans, passing a controversial bill retaliating for a new U.S. law aimed at punishing human-rights violations.
President Vladimir Putin could sign the Russian draft into law as early as this week, a Kremlin spokesman said.
The proposed adoption ban has triggered fierce opposition among Russia's political and cultural elite, with even senior government ministers publicly coming out against it, a rarity for Kremlin initiatives. But Mr. Putin has strongly endorsed the idea and officials appeared to be falling into line. The outcry over the issue has highlighted a deepening split in Russian society between the wealthier, worldlier urbanites who are increasingly critical of the Kremlin and Mr. Putin's core supporters among the poorer, less educated and older population in the rest of Russia.
"The audiences of Facebook FB -0.80% and Dozhd (a Russian Internet TV network) aren't representative," said Andrei Klishas, a member of the upper house of parliament. "People, especially in the provinces, are very negative about foreign adoption."
The adoption ban is part of a broader draft conceived as Russia's response to a U.S. law signed early this month known as the Magnitsky Act, for Sergei Magnitsky, a hedge-fund lawyer who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing alleged fraud and corruption among officials. That law imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and their families suspected to have been involved in the Magnitsky case or other human-rights violations.
Mr. Putin and other Russian officials have denounced that law as a hypocritical move by U.S. authorities blind to their own shortcomings in protecting rights. The initial draft of the Russian response included visa and financial restrictions against U.S. officials alleged to be involved in human-rights violations, but even supporters admitted the sanctions were largely symbolic. In an effort to beef up the measure, pro-Kremlin legislators added the adoption ban and prohibitions on U.S. funding of many nongovernmental organizations.
"The Magnitsky Act was viewed as the culmination of the American approach that the U.S. doesn't care about anyone's sovereignty but its own," said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of a Kremlin foreign-policy advisory panel. "So the decision was made to react as loudly as possible. Now the question is how the Obama Administration behaves."
The Russian proposals have sparked a surge in official anti-American rhetoric, but it isn't yet clear whether the latest tensions will be a major setback for efforts to improve relations, analysts said. Moscow appears to have largely given up earlier hopes for a visit in the first half of next year by President Barack Obama.
Though the numbers have been dropping in recent years, the U.S. is still the top foreign destination for Russian orphans being adopted. Some 956 were adopted by Americans in 2011, about a third of the foreign total, compared with 7,416 adoptions by Russians, according to Russian government data. For the U.S., Russia is the No. 3 foreign source of adopted children, after China and Ethiopia, according to State Department data.
During debate Wednesday on the law in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament, no one spoke against it but supporters conceded that urgent measures are needed to stimulate more domestic adoption. Russian figures show about 120,000 orphans are listed as up for adoption in the government's database, with only 18,470 Russian families signed up as potential adoptive parents. Advocates of foreign adoption note that U.S. adopters take greater numbers of handicapped and sick children than do Russians, for whom government support is limited.
A poll released this week by Moscow-based market research company the Public Opinion Foundation found that 56% of Russians support the adoption ban, with backing especially strong among older, less-educated and provincial Russians and opposition strong in urban areas and among the wealthy and educated.
Russian state media have given heavy coverage to cases of abuse and deaths of Russian children adopted in the U.S., alleging that U.S. courts are more lenient in those cases than with other abuse allegations. Russian statistics say 19 adopted children have died in the U.S. since the early 1990s, from a total of about 70,000 adopted. Still, Russian officials admit the death rate for children in Russian adoptive families is substantially higher.
In 2011, after Moscow threatened to suspend adoptions, the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement giving Russian representatives greater access to adopted children. The draft law approved Wednesday would abrogate that agreement. Formally, that process would take a year, but officials said adoptions could effectively be halted as soon as the law takes effect. Some legislators have hinted that the ban could be lifted in the future if the U.S. does more to improve Russian access to adopted children, but there is no such language in the draft law.
Several adoption agencies in Russia serving the U.S. said this week they were preparing to shut down if the measure becomes law. Russian officials say 46 children now in the process of being adopted by U.S. parents will be returned to the national database for adoption by Russians.