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Russia’s Putin signs anti-U.S. adoption bill

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 28 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial measure banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. families, the Kremlin said Friday.

The action could affect hundreds of American families seeking to adopt. Americans adopted close to 1,000 Russian children last year, according to

Though the number has been dropping in recent years, Russia remains the third most popular country for U.S. citizens to adopt, after China and Ethiopia.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted this week that passage of the bill “saddens” him, but said he’s open to dialogue.

The measure also bars any political activities by nongovernmental organizations receiving funding from the United States, if such activities could affect Russian interests, Russia’s semiofficial RIA-Novosti news agency said.

It also imposes sanctions against U.S. officials thought to have violated human rights.

The law, which goes into effect on January 1, envisages the drafting of a list of U.S. citizens who will be prohibited from entering Russia, and will suspend the activity of any legal entities controlled by these individuals in the country.

A vote this week in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, was unanimous, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the bill ahead of its signing.

Lawmakers in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, adopted it last week.

The move by Russian politicians is widely seen as retaliation for a law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed on December 14. That bill, called the Magnitsky Act, imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

“The United States is concerned by measures in the bill passed in the Russian Duma today that, if it becomes law, would halt inter-country adoptions between the United States and Russia and would restrict the ability of Russian civil society organizations to work with American partners,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last week.

The Magnitsky Act is named in honor of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest tax fraud in the country’s history in the form of rebates claimed by government officials who stole money from the state. Magnitsky died in 2009 after a year in a Moscow detention center, apparently beaten to death.

The Russian bill’s implementation nullifies a recent agreement between the United States and Russia in which the countries agreed to additional safeguards to protect children and parties involved in inter-country adoptions.

“American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into American homes over the past 20 years,” Ventrell said last week. “Just last month we implemented a bilateral adoptions agreement with Russia to improve safeguards for adopted children and their families. If Russian officials have concerns about the implementation of this agreement, we stand ready to work with them to improve it and remain committed to supporting inter-country adoptions between our two countries.”

Only China has more adoptions to the United States than Russia.

Backers of the Russian bill said American adoptive parents have been abusive, citing 19 deaths of Russian children since the 1990s.

In 2010, an American woman caused outrage after she sent her adopted son back to Russia alone on a one-way flight, saying the boy, then 7, had violent episodes that made her family fear for its safety.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special representative for human rights, said Wednesday on Twitter that Russians are “well aware of, and have pointed out more than once, the inadequate protection of adopted Russian children in the US.” He also said the United States is one of three nations that have not signed the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Anthony Lake, executive director of the U.N. Children’s Fund, touted the importance of “inter-country adoption.”

“While welcoming Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s call for the improvement of the child welfare system, UNICEF urges that the current plight of the many Russian children in institutions receives priority attention,” he said.

UNICEF asked that Russia let children’s “best interests” guide the “design and development of all efforts to protect children.”

“We encourage the government to establish a robust national social protection plan to help strengthen Russian families. Alternatives to the institutionalization of children are essential, including permanent foster care, domestic adoption and inter-country adoption,” he said.

The United States has signed but not ratified the convention, which has sparked concerns from conservatives about its effect on U.S. sovereignty and parental rights.

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

“This bill hits back at Russia’s most vulnerable children and could deprive them of the loving families they desperately need,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said last week.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program director, has said that “this bill is frankly a childish response to the Magnitsky Act.”

U.S. State Department figures.

Russia’s protracted attempts at replacing the aging space warhorse that is Soyuz may finally bear fruit. RSC Energia has announced that it has finished the design of a prototype spacecraft under the country’s Prospective Piloted Transport System — the equivalent of the Orion program. The as-yet unnamed craft is expected to be ready for testing by 2017, and unlike the current model, will be fully reusable. It’s been designed not only as a taxi to take cosmonauts (and the odd multi-billionaire) to the International Space Station, but also ferry crews to the moon. That is, of course, assuming that Elon Musk doesn’t get there first and make the moon his summer home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to tighten defence ties with India and double levels of bilateral trade within three years as he headed to New Delhi for a summit on Monday.

Accompanied by several senior ministers and military officials, Putin will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a one-day visit designed to highlight the strong ties between two traditional allies and fellow BRICS.

“I would like to stress that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of our foreign policy,” Putin wrote in an article for The Hindu, an Indian daily, ahead of his visit.

India is now the world’s largest arms importer and Russian-made military equipment accounts for 70 percent of Indian arms supplies.

But while Russia once had a virtual monopoly over India’s arms market, New Delhi has been shopping around of late and the visit is seen in Moscow as a chance to regain lost ground and develop joint projects.

“The strategic nature of partnership between India and Russia is witnessed by the unprecedented level of our military and technical cooperation,” Putin wrote in his article, saying “the joint development of advanced armaments rather than just purchasing military products” would be key to future relations.

His comments echoed those of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid who said Friday that “India is committed to strengthening and enhancing this relationship, both on economic and strategic ties”.

“There is a lot of work in progress and a lot of issues and agreements will be taken up,” he told reporters.

The Kremlin has said that a number of major contracts on military-technical cooperation would be inked during the visit — Putin’s first to South Asia since his return to the Kremlin in May.

Likely tie-ups are expected to involve Russia’s Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer, including a $3.77 billion deal for 42 Su-30MKI fighters and a deal to produce the fifth generation Sukhoi fighter — a joint Russia-India project, according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade.

Moscow has been worried recently by New Delhi’s increasing preference for Western suppliers, especially after Boeing was chosen last month over Russia’s MiL plant for a major helicopter contract.

India has also been unhappy with delays of deliveries of some naval equipment, notably of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is being refurbished for the Indian Navy at Russia’s Sevmash naval yard.

Russia was originally to deliver the upgraded vessel in August 2008, but the date has now been pushed back to the end of 2013, while the price has more than doubled to $2.3 billion.

According to Indian government figures, bilateral trade has been growing steadily and is expected to reach around 10 billion dollars in 2012, up from 7.5 billion in 2009.

Putin set out a goal of doubling bilateral trade in just three years.

“Our trade turnover has overcome the consequences of global crisis, and in 2012 we expect to reach record numbers, over $10 billion. Our next goal is to reach $20 bln already by 2015,” he said.

Russia and India are both so-called BRICS, the bloc of emerging powers which is seeking to act as a counterweight to Western powers and which also includes Brazil, China and South Africa.

India is hoping Russia will help it achieve its ambition of joining an expanded UN Security Council which currently only has five permanent members — Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.

The Kremlin said that Russia sees India “as one of the worthy and strong candidates for a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council”.

As well as his talks with Singh, Putin is also due to meet the ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition BJP.

On Nov. 27, a clip appeared on YouTube of a Russian-made Syrian military helicopter apparently being hit by Syrian rebels using a surface-to-air missile. The footage of the gunship, smoking as it turns and flies away, suddenly made the most effective killing machines in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military look very vulnerable, as the brutal war between the Syrian government and anti-Assad rebels continues. Luckily for Assad, help appears to be on the way.

One day before the clip appeared, hackers from the group Anonymous leaked what they claim is a cache of documents stolen from the Syrian Foreign Ministry. As first reported by the non-profit investigative news organization, ProPublica, one set appears to detail shipments from Moscow to Damascus of 240 tons of newly printed Syrian money, which the Russian government has publicly acknowledged printing for the Assad regime. Another document looks to be a flight plan for four shipments of refurbished helicopters, also going from Moscow to Syria. The shipments, whose cargo the document lists in English as “old copter after overhauling,” include one delivery on Nov. 21, a second one on Nov. 28, and two more planned for the first week of December. According to the document, the payment for these shipments was made “in cash,” and their circuitous route through the skies above Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan would circumvent the airspace of all the countries that have imposed a weapons embargo on Syria.

“It’s getting to Syria by the back door,” says Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which operates an air-trafficking surveillance project on behalf of the European Union. Griffiths, who says the leaked flight plan appears to be genuine, sees it as the latest step in Russia’s effort to repair and then deliver Assad’s fixed-up helicopters by any means necessary. This effort has already come up against some major hurdles, with the U.S., the E.U. and Turkey making extensive efforts to stop such deliveries from crossing their airspace or territorial waters.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia for shipping attack helicopters to Syria; a week later, after British officials joined her calls for the shipments to stop, the Russian ship that was making the delivery—the Alaed—was forced to turn back after its British insurance company pulled its coverage. The Alaed reportedly made another attempt to fulfill the shipment in July, this time in the company of a flotilla of Russian warships. Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly warned Russian counterparts over the pattern of their arm sales to the Syrian regime.

According to the documents leaked by Anonymous, Russia has since begun transporting Syria’s patched-up helicopters by air. TIME emailed copies of the documents to the spokesman of Russia’s state arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, who declined to comment on them. But the company has previously said that it is repairing helicopter gunships for Syria under an old contract, which it says it is legally obligated to carry out regardless of the sanctions imposed by the U.S., E.U. and various Arab states. “None of these events will influence our relationships with our traditional markets in any way,” the head of Rosoboronexport, Anatoly Isaykin, told TIME in June.

And under international law, there is nothing to stop them. Russia and China have used their veto power three times in the U.N. Security Council to block sanctions against Syria over the past two years. Russia’s helicopter deliveries to Syria may be politically sensitive but they are perfectly legal.

According to the hacked documents, the helicopters were picked up from Ramenskoe airport, also known as Zhukovsky, a military facility outside Moscow that houses the fleet of Russia’s secret police, the FSB. That is the same airfield that hosts the biennial Russian arms bazaar, where TIME found and photographed Syrian officials shopping for weapons this summer

The Syrian Airlines plane that is apparently ferrying the helicopters to Syria is registered under the code YK-ATA and has been on SIPRI’s watch list for two years, Griffiths says, ever since it started flying refurbished helicopter gunships to Syria. During one such shipment in 2010, Griffiths says, the government of Lithuania, an EU member, learned the nature of the plane’s cargo and refused to allow it into Lithuanian airspace. Since then, the E.U. and Turkey have banned all Syrian aircraft from flying over their territory. In October, that led to a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Moscow when Turkish fighter jets forced down a Syrian airliner flying from Moscow to Damascus. Turkish authorities searched the plane for weapons, and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they had found munitions and “military tools” inside. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the plane was carrying radar equipment, not military hardware.

Still, Turkey’s vigilance seems to have forced Russia to cobble together a new route for the helicopter gunships, says Peter Danssaert, an expert at the International Peace Information Service, an Antwerp-based organization that tracks the weapons trade. He also says the flight plan released by Anonymous looks genuine. “It looks like [Syria and Russia] are trying to avoid a repeat of the Turkish situation,” Danssaert says. “It’s a classic example of clandestine arms movement,” says SIPRI’s Griffiths. “The avoidance of more rigorously monitored airspace in favor of Iraq and [Syria’s] regional ally Iran.”

But these shipments seem a lot less clandestine after the leak of the documents, which may create new problems for both Russia and Syria. The U.S. could put pressure on Iraq, for example, to refuse overflight clearance for the Russian shipments, and that would again force Russia to scramble for a new route to Damascus. Given the determination it has shown so far, it is unlikely that Moscow will give up on its helicopter contracts with Syria altogether. So even as the Syrian rebels learn to shoot the Russian-made choppers down, Moscow will likely be there to patch them up again.