MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin’s decision Thursday to endorse a ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens dealt a serious blow to an already strained diplomatic relationship, but for hundreds of Americans enmeshed in the costly, complicated adoption process, the impact was deeply personal.
Robert and Kim Summers of Freehold, N.J., have already paid for three seats on a flight home from Russia next month. They are scheduled to pick up a 21-month-old boy they consider their son in the city of Kaluga on Jan. 14, after a required 30-day waiting period that began when a judge approved their adoption.
They plan to call the boy Preston, and their house is filled with toys and clothes and pictures of him, said Kim Summers, 49.
“I’m appalled," she said of news that the ban would become law. “I can’t even fathom what is happening, something so political that has absolutely nothing to do with children."
If the ban comes into force Tuesday, as called for in the law, it stands to upend the plans of many U.S. families in the final stages of adopting in Russia. Already, it has added wrenching emotional tumult to a process that can cost $50,000 or more, requires repeated trips overseas, and typically entails lengthy and maddening encounters with bureaucracy. The ban would apparently also nullify an agreement on adoptions between Russia and the United States that was ratified this year and just went into effect Nov. 1.
The bill was approved unanimously by the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Parliament, on Wednesday. Putin said that he would sign it as well as a resolution also adopted Wednesday that calls for improvements in Russia’s child welfare system.
“I intend to sign the law," Putin said, “as well as a presidential decree changing the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems."
Putin also brushed aside criticism that the law would deny some Russian orphans the chance for a much better life in the United States. In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted to Americans, more than to any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given that nearly 120,000 children in Russia are eligible for adoption.
“There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours," Putin said. “So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?"
U.S. officials have criticized the measure and have urged the Russian government not to entangle orphaned children in politics.
Internally, however, Obama administration officials have been debating how strongly to respond to the adoption ban, and the potential implications for other aspects of the country’s relationship with Russia.
The United States relies heavily on overland routes through Russia to ship supplies to military units in Afghanistan and has enlisted Russia’s help in containing Iran’s nuclear program. The former Cold War rivals also have sharp disagreements, notably over the civil war in Syria.
The bill that includes the adoption ban was drafted in response to the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Barack Obama this month that will bar Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there. The Obama administration had opposed the Magnitsky legislation, fearing diplomatic retaliation, but members of Congress were eager to press Russia over human rights abuses and tied the bill to another measure granting Russia new status as a full trading partner.
The response against the ban has been equally emotional in the United States, where three Russian adoptees, including Tatyana McFadden, 23, a medal-winning Paralympics athlete who uses a wheelchair, waited in the snow and rain Wednesday to deliver a petition against the ban to the Russian Embassy in Washington.
Meanwhile, U.S. supporters of the ban said there were more than enough U.S. children in need of adoption, and critics of international adoption generally reiterated complaints that the process is overly profit-driven and sometimes corrupt.
But for parents with their hearts set on adopting Russian children, the political discourse has been little more than background noise to their own personal agony. Senior officials in Moscow have said they expect the ban to have the immediate effect of blocking the departure of 46 children whose adoptions by U.S. parents were nearly completed.
Adoption agency officials in the United States who work regularly with Russian orphanages said there were about 200 to 250 sets of parents who had identified children they planned to adopt and would be affected.