RUSSIA'S upper house of parliament has passed a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, bringing one of the most controversial pieces of legislation of the Vladimir Putin era a step closer to the statute book.
The legislation, which is opposed in the country's liberal circles, comes amid strong anti-American feeling among Russia's ruling elite.
The Kremlin was furious earlier this month when Washington approved a law denying visas and the right to have US bank accounts to senior Russian officials linked to the death in custody in Moscow of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing lawyer, in 2009.
US President Barack Obama's signing of the Magnitsky Act was seen as a triumph by the lawyer's colleagues, who say he was wrongly imprisoned and persecuted for uncovering a €177m fraud by senior Russian police and tax officers.
Moscow promised a "symmetrical" response to the act but struggled initially to find a reprisal that would hit home.
Many Russian bureaucrats enjoy trips to the West, educate their children in foreign schools and keep their money there, but US officials were unlikely to be hurt by a Russian travel ban.
MPs decided on a ban on US adoptions – currently running at about 1,000 a year – and named their bill after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died in Virginia in 2008 after his adoptive father, cleared of involuntary manslaughter, left him in a locked car for nine hours.
The Yakovlev initiative appears to have been coordinated with the Kremlin.
Russia's rubber-stamp upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, passed it 143 to 0, to cheers in the chamber.
Mr Putin now has the final decision on whether to make the measure law, but he indicated his support last week saying that MPs had acted "emotionally but reasonably" by suggesting it.
Some American families were to be applauded for giving a new future to orphans, Mr Putin added, but US authorities had dealt badly with cases of abuse.
An estimated 19 out of 60,000 Russian adoptees have died in the US in the past 20 years.
Mr Putin also railed against Washington's alleged hypocrisy over human rights, saying: "Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – people are kept in prison for years without being charged, they walk around in shackles like in the Middle Ages.
"They have legalised torture inside their own country. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had at least something similar? Why does one country consider itself entitled to spread its jurisdiction to the entire world?"
Critics in Russia say the Yakovlev law will punish vulnerable orphans. More than 110,000 people signed a petition against the law.
Michael McFaul, the American ambassador to Moscow, said the US was "very concerned" at Russia's attempt to "link the fate of orphaned children to unrelated political issues". (© Daily Telegraph, London)