Russia's upper house of parliament has approved legislation that would ban Americans from adopting Russian children. The bill is regarded as retaliation for a US human rights law targeting certain Russian officials.
The Federation Council voted unanimously to approve the bill, which the lower house Duma had passed on Friday. President Vladimir Putin has hinted that he probably will sign the bill into law.
Security was stepped up outside of the building, where police arrested a few demonstrators who were protesting against the proposed legislation.
Critics of the bill say it would penalize both Russian children and would-be American parents.
Anthony Lake, the executive director of the UN children's agency (UNICEF), issued a statement on Wendesday about the proposed ban.
"We ask that the government of Russia, in its design and development of all efforts to protect children, let the best interests of children – and only their best interests – determine its actions," Lake said. "All children deserve an environment that promotes their protection and well-being. Russian children – indeed all children – need to be in protective and loving families or family-like environments."
The US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, responded to the Duma vote by saying the legislation unfairly "linked the fate of orphaned children to unrelated political issues."
Objections have also been raised by some senior Russian officials.
"Children should not be a bargaining chip in international affairs," Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin's human rights council said.
Americans adopted 962 Russian children in 2011 and more than 45,000 since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1992, according to the Reuters news agency.
Not only would the legislation make adoptions of Russian children by Americans illegal, but it would also ban US-funded "non-profit organizations that engage in political activity."
The legislation is seen as retaliation for a human rights law passed by the US Congress, which would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of Russian officials accused of involvement in the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky. The Russian lawyer died in jail after he blew the whistle on what he claimed was a scheme in which police investigators had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.
pfd/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)