The Blog

Childish Behaviour

In this seemingly endless episode of tit-for-tat between Russia and the US, Russian politicians have landed a blow against everyday Russians and Americans - and from it gained very little.

Tit for tat politics may appear prominent in US-Russian relations, but when it impacts the welfare of children, its petty and childish.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed off on a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, a riposte to the long awaited Magnitsky Act- US sanctions on certain Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in pre-trial detention.

For some, Putin's hands were tied. His time at the top has often come down to appealing to many Russians need for strong leadership. In 2012, as in 1999, Putin still resides over a strongly nationalistic state, one which regards the concept of American meddling in Russian affairs as anathema. Indeed, the most potent weapon in the president's arsenal in tackling the recent 'white ribbon' protesters has been to tie them to US funding.

In short, for many Russians in parliament and elsewhere, the actions taken by the US Congress with the Magnitsky Act demanded a response. By enacting this bill US legislators likely expected a retaliatory bill, though this one doesn't do anyone justice.

Hitting home

Whilst few global leaders or parties want to be seen as impotent by their electorate, punishing Russian children isn't all that endearing either.

It's a move made more cynical by the recent resumption of normal ties in this often-blighted sphere of relations between Russia and the US. MP's who sourced the bill justified this as a step to defend the rights of children being adopted by American parents.

There have been many cases of abuses. From an unwanted and abandoned young child being sent back to Russia alone on a plane, to another child being locked in a hot car, there's reason here for protest and condemnation.

However, just a month ago the two nations mended broken ties concerning adoption, with more checks and requirements asked of the US. Since, no new cases of mistreatment have since been brought to light. This all begs the question, bar US legislation on a completely unrelated topic, what's changed?

But perhaps more disconcerting is that this will undoubtedly impact the lives of those who are adopted by American families. In 2011 of the 3,400 Russian children adopted by foreign families, close to a third were taken in by Americans, not a massive amount, but enough.

This bill is being passed along with proposals to improve the lives of Russian children needing foster care. But in a state that often struggles to implement reforms, with corruption and incompetence throughout the public sector, its hard to see how this will offset the detrimental aspect of such legislation. Those who truly pay a price in Russia's response are likely to be Russians themselves.

Oil, gas and baby economy?

Perhaps more damaging than the intent itself, is the narrow scope for rebuking US politicians their Russian counterparts have. This isn't a positive commentary on Russia's global reach.

A recent spoof news piece by boundary-pushing Russian broadcaster TV Rain embodied this predicament best. Commenting on what consequences may be dealt to US politicians for daring to finalise the Magnitsky Act, it mocked how Russian visa bans would means US senators would now be prevented from vacationing in some of the country's icy industrial towns.

The problem is, short of fully severing ties, wielding the nuclear trigger, or cutting off gas to Europe, Russia lacks smaller tit for tat bargaining chips. Rather than targeting state officials it wants to reprimand - like the Magnitsky Act - this goes a step further.

In that sense Russia has thrown the toys out the pram. In this seemingly endless episode of tit-for-tat between Russia and the US, Russian politicians have landed a blow against everyday Russians and Americans - and from it gained very little.