Russia’s Adoption Ban Triggers a Diplomatic Crisis

By on / Conflict Resolution

On December 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by American citizens. The ban was part of a broader law tailored to retaliate against the United States for passing a recent law intended to punish Russian human rights violators, the New York Times reports. Yet it may have spawned a need for crisis negotiations between the two countries.

The U.S. law honored a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who attempted to expose tax fraud by the Russian government. Magnitsky was arrested and died in prison in 2009 after allegedly being denied medical attention. The U.S. law bars Russians who have been accused of human rights abuses – such as the doctor who refused requests to treat Magnitsky – from traveling in the United States.

Russian Retaliation

Angered, Russian policymakers sought a diplomatic tit-for-tat. But given that few Americans travel to Russia or own homes there, a reciprocal response would have little effect. They stumbled upon an imperfect equivalent: a ban on American adoptions of Russian children. The ban was named after a Russian-born toddler, Dmitri Yakovlev, who died of heatstroke after his adoptive father accidentally left him in a parked car for nine hours.

A few high-profile cases of negligent American adoptive parents such as this have provoked outrage in Russia. Yet more than 650,000 Russian children live in foster care or orphanages, many of them sick or disabled, and only about 7,000 are adopted domestically each year. Meanwhile, Americans have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children over the past two decades. The new law appears to have halted more than 1,500 pending adoptions by Americans.

The adoption ban has strained diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States. Calling the law “shameful and appalling,” Senator John McCain said, “To punish innocent babies and children over a political disagreement between our governments is a new low, even for Putin’s Russia,” according to the Times. 

Domestic Criticism of the Ban

In Russia, the new law has triggered criticism and debate. Russian lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov accused the Kremlin of “using the fate of thousands of orphans as a lever of political pressure,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Kalashnikov suggested that if Russia felt the need to retaliate against the United States for the Magnitsky law, it could instead have cut the U.S. transportation route to Afghanistan or shut down a NATO transit base in Russia.

The firestorm that has erupted suggests that in addition to disrupting the lives of some Russian orphans and their would-be American parents, the new law may be backfiring against Putin and the Russian lawmakers who supported it.

In diplomacy and other negotiations, the urge to retaliate for perceived wrongdoings and slights can be overwhelming. If punishment does indeed seem warranted, be sure that it fits the crime as precisely as possible.

More often, however, your best course of action will be to take the high ground. Move forward by attempting to negotiate a detente with your counterpart, if it seems you can no longer do business, look for a more cooperative partner.


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


Related Article: Managing Internal Conflict – Russia’s Bid to Join the WTO

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