In his familiar role as a gangsta demanding respect, Vladimir Putin exploded at a questioner at a recent press conference who had the temerity to criticize Russia’s just passed bill that would bar Americans from adopting Russian children. Putin raged at the “humiliation” that the US had visited on Russia by passing the Magnitsky Act. He demanded to know whether the questioner was a “sadomasochist” for questioning Russia’s decision to retaliate against the Act by passing the adoption bill.
Insofar as humiliation is concerned, you would think that a head of state, and former head of government, would find the following sequence of events humiliating: government tax officials defraud the Russian government-the government/state he has led for 12 years-of $235 million in tax revenue; these officials conspire with law enforcement and prison officials to imprison, torture, and murder the man, Sergei Magnitsky, who discovered the fraud and attempted to go after those who perpetrated it; the perpetrators remain at large, and have been neither investigated nor prosecuted; and as a final touch, government prosecutors are trying Magnitsky posthumously, in flagrant violation of Russian law, not to mention basic human decency.
Yes, a normal country, and the normal head of state of a normal country, would find that history of official corruption and depravity to be exceedingly shameful and humiliating. But we are talking about Russia and Putin, so the humiliation has nothing to do with corruption or depravity, and everything to do with the fact that a nation that Putin (and a strong majority of Russians) obsessively hates and fears exercised its sovereignty by choosing not to permit the entry of undesirables like those involved in the Magnitsky affair, and others who may be found to have engaged in similar gross violations of human rights.
In other words, the humiliation of a gangster outraged at being excluded from a polite society he simultaneously loathes and envies.
Lacking the means to implement a symmetric response, because nothing of the like is remotely possible in the US, and because no one in the US would be all that put out by being denied the right to travel to Russia, the Russian Duma hurriedly adopted a highly asymmetric response. A response aimed not at anyone in an official position in the US, but at private American citizens. And just because that’s who the target of this action is doesn’t mean that they will be the primary victims.
No. It’s far worse than that. Virtually all the damage here will be of the collateral variety, and all the suffering victims will be Russian children, and indeed, the most wretched and vulnerable Russian children: the hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned kids, many of them severely disabled, emotionally damaged, and seriously ill.
The pretext for this action is that 19 Russian children adopted by Americans have died in the past two decades. Every death a tragedy, to be sure.
But now that Putin and his main political supporters have gone all Christian on us, perhaps someone, like, I dunno, Patriarch Kirill of whom Putin is so fond, should whisper Matthew 7.3 in his ear: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Luke 6.42 would also serve.) (Fat chance of that happening, actually. An official spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church pronounced that Russians adopted by Americans would “not enter God’s kingdom.” So apparently Russia is saving souls, as well as lives. The Church’s only suggestion is that the bill include an exception for the seriously handicapped. Do not the seriously handicapped have souls? Are they not deserving of heaven? Quite a theological contradiction here.)
The mote-beam difference is all too starkly clear: the rate of deaths of Russian children adopted by Russians is 39 to 40 times higher than the rate of Russian kids adopted by Americans. If anything, this difference understates matters, because Americans disproportionately adopt high risk children. And the situation is even worse in Russia’s appalling group homes and orphanages-Детский домов. The unfortunates who live in them would pine for a merely Dickensian existence. For those who survive to adulthood, rates of suicide, mental illness, drug abuse and premature death are obscenely high.
In brief: to punish private Americans who had nothing to do with the official act that outrages them so, Russia’s legislators overwhelmingly (and unanimously in the upper house) are condemning thousands of innocent Russian children to a brutalized, impoverished, and hopeless existence. Many will not live to adulthood. Those who do, will all too often have one that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
But they have their twisted justifications, which all too typically reek of projection. Like this one, by State Duma Deputy Svetlana Goryacheva: “60,000 children have been taken to the U.S. from Russia. And if even one-tenth of these orphans were used for organ transplants or sexual pleasure, there will remain 50,000 who can be recruited for war against Russia.” Passing over in silence the absurd paranoid ravings about a war against Russia (Svetlana: we haven’t the slightest interest in your wretched manure pile), it is sick beyond measure to allege the sexual abuse of Russian children by thousands of American adoptive parents, given that Russia is the world leader in child pornography, and that Russian orphanages and group homes are the epicenter of a massive sex trade in children. A trade in which Russians are the primary customers.
Russian nationalists and patriots declare their country to be exceptional. In this I wholeheartedly concur. For what the Russian legislature has done, and which a majority of Russians applaud, is thankfully a monstrous exception, even in this fallen world.
Putin has indicated that he will sign the bill, after a brief period of equivocation. And now we see who the true sadomasochists are. Putin and the Duma, with the approval of most Russians, are sadistically condemning thousands of innocent children to neglect, brutalization, and misery. And in inimitable Russian fashion, they are masochistically harming themselves through actions that are causing millions around the world to recoil from them in disgust.