The Anti-American Anger Driving Russia's Ban On U.S. Adoptions

President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he will sign the so-called "anti-Magnitsky" bill into law is just part of the widespread anger toward Washington.

An adoption announcement of a New Jersey couple and the baby boy adopted in Russia
An adoption announcement of a New Jersey couple and the baby boy adopted in Russia
Natalya Gordetskaya and Alla Barakhova

MOSCOW - It looks like more orphans in Russia are going to be spending the whole year exactly where they'll spend New Year’s Day.

With the just approved ‘anti-Magnitsky’ law passed unanimously by the Russian Upper House of Parliament, American citizens are set to be banned from adopting children in Russia. This will also apply to children who are in the middle of adoption procedures. If they are still in Russia at the end of the year, that’s where they’ll stay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will sign the bill into law.

The new Russian legislation is a response to a law recently signed by U.S. President Barack Obama that establishes normal trade relations with Russia for the first time in decades, but which also includes the so-called “Magnitsky” Act that calls for sanctions against any Russian who was involved in the 2009 death of lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

Russian leaders, including Putin, are incensed by what they consider interference with an internal matter. During the Upper House deliberations on Wednesday in Moscow, senators were asked to vote on the law between operas and ballets put on for the upcoming New Year’s holiday. On the Dec. 25, the Constitutional Committee stamped its approval on the anti-adoption law, just as all the other committees who reviewed the law had done.

There have been some high-level objections, most notably from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but otherwise the law has mostly sailed through committees, propelled by waves of anti-American rhetoric.

The mood was obvious from the comments made by senators as they discussed the bill. Valerii Snyakin, who sits on the international relations committee of the senate-like chamber known as the Federation Council, said that the United States had reignited Cold-War style relations.

There was no real debate, just a chorus of criticism against Washington. “We didn’t start it,” added Senator Gennady Makin. “Whoever comes to Russia with a sword will die by the sword.”

Other senators implied that Russian orphans were given away as gifts by American adoptive parents, or talked about how the United States had "created" a large number of orphans in Serbia. Others demanded to know about the living conditions of the Russian children who were adopted by families in rural America. At least one took a more general approach to the ban, saying that the lawmakers should pass a law forbidding all foreign adoptions in the spring, since sending kids abroad is, he said, immoral.

And the children?

One senator, Evgeny Tarlo, took it a step further. He suggested starting a parliamentary inquiry into the fate of all Russian children adopted by families in the United States. “On the Internet, there are people in America saying that we lawmakers are cannibals and child-killers because of this law,” he added. “There are petitions that have gathered 50,000 signatures that would put all Russian Duma members on the ‘Magnitsky list,” forbidding them from travel in the United States."

Some 1,000 Russian children were adopted in 2011 by parents from the United States, the leading destination. More than 45,000 such children have been adopted by American parents since 1999, the New York Times reports.

There was only one lawmaker who raised any concrete questions. It was Zinaida Dragunkina, the head of the education committee. “What are we going to do with the kids now?” she asked, “Out of 700,000 Russian children in state care, 200,000 of them are eligible for adoption. There are only 18,471 Russian citizens who are currently waiting to adopt a child, and all of them insist on a ‘healthy child.’”

 The speaker then brought the law to a vote. There were 19 senators absent, but none of them were gone because of the vote - and six sent letters explicitly stating their support for the law. It was adopted by all 143 senators present.

By 4 p.m. the senators were continuing their holiday program, packed into an improvised concert hall for a show that would be followed by a banquet.

Valentina Matviyenko, the Chairman of the Federation Council in Russia answered one last question from journalists, about whether there had been pressure on the senators to pass the bill. “It’s hard to put pressure on senators, they are strong adults. We have thought about it long and hard, and came to the conclusion that we needed to respond to the Magnistky list.” As if on cue, the overture of the symphony sounded.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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