President Vladimir Putin has said he intended to sign into law a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children that has raised tensions between Moscow and Washington.
“I do not yet see any reason why I should not sign it,” Putin told a meeting of top officials in the Kremlin on Thursday.
“I intend not only to sign the law… but also a presidential decree on changing the way orphans are supported.”
The tough legislation was drafted in retaliation for a new US law sanctioning Russian officials implicated in the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.
It was easily passed by both houses of parliament and is widely seen as the strongest piece of anti-Western legislation considered during Putin’s 13-year rule.
Putin mounted a firm defence of the measure on Thursday despite protests from Washington and even such senior Russian government members as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He accused the United States of “acting brazenly and arrogantly” by allegedly refusing Russian officials access to adopted children who were reported to be harmed by their new US families.
In the past 20 years, Americans have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children, according to the US State Department.
In criticising the proposed law, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell says “it is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations.”
Critics of the bill say Russian orphanages are woefully overcrowded and the fate of vulnerable children should not be used as a bargaining chip in a bilateral feud.
“These children are not even offered to foreigners until they get a certain number of [adoption] refusals from Russians,” said Sigayeva, a neatly styled brunette who heads the New Hope Christian Services Adoption Agency.
“These are children with complicated diagnoses, really complicated. They are very ill children.”
But Putin rejected the argument of those who believe the law limits the opportunities of children who would struggle if they remain in Russia.
“There are lots of places in the world where living standards are higher than they are here,” said Putin.
“And what? Are we going to send all our children there? Perhaps we should move there ourselves?”
He also cited Israel as an example of a country that does not send its children abroad despite domestic concerns about the security situation there.
The Israelis “always fight for their national identity”, said Putin. “They form a single fist and fight for their language and their culture.”
US families adopted an estimated 1,500 Russian children last year and are the number one foreign destination of the country’s orphans.
A presidential adviser on children’s rights said Wednesday that 46 pending US adoptions may be abandoned when the law enters into force in January 1.
More than 650,000 children are considered orphans in Russia – though some were rejected by their parents or taken from dysfunctional homes. Of that total, 110,000 lived in state institutions in 2011, according to the Ministry of Science and Education.