Editorial: Russia makes pawns of innocent, needy children

The big boys are strutting, but it’s the needy orphans who will suffer as a result.

Hundreds of Russian children will lose the chance for a vastly improved life in the United States because their president, Vladimir Putin, is asserting the nation’s pride.

The decision to block U.S. adoption of Russian children comes as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, which blocks Russians accused of human rights abuses from traveling to the U.S. or owning property here.

Whatever the merits of the Magnitsky legislation, the response only hurts innocent and desperately needy children.

U.S. residents adopted about 1,000 Russian orphans in 2011, according to The New York Times, while there were 120,000 eligible. If similar numbers applied in 2013, that’s 1,000 children, many of them with significant medical problems, who could benefit from far superior services available to them in the U.S. That’s 1,000 children who could have loving families instead of life in an overburdened Russian orphanage system.

Putin pledges to improve Russian services for those children, and well he should. But the reason for this retaliatory decision has nothing to do with the children, so count us skeptical.

The adoption dispute is just the latest in an increasingly difficult relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tops the list, but analysts consulted by The Wall Street Journal say Putin is also pushing back after emerging from financial difficulties, seeking more respect for Russian independence and power.

The adoption legislation also bans U.S.-funded civic groups from operating in Russia, and outlaws a Russian with dual U.S. citizenship from leadership positions in those groups.

About 1,000 U.S. families are at some stage in the process of adopting Russian children, according to the Journal, and some have already met the child and prepared with furniture and toys. Painful as this loss will be, those prospective parents have other adoption avenues. Most of the Russian children don’t.

Russia’s leaders should be ashamed to use vulnerable children as pawns in their effort to assert their nation’s power and prestige.

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