Tom Zirpoli: Russia's Putin takes aim at children

I never liked Russian President Vladimir Putin. President George W. Bush said that he looked into Putin's soul and found a man he could trust. When I look at Putin all I see is an immature bully.

Putin is not a likeable person. He stole democracy from the Russian people. He continues to stomp on the human and civil rights of his own people, shut down Russian newspapers and other media outlets that challenge him and placed his cronies in local offices around the nation.

Elections are a farce in Russia because Putin controls the selection of candidates for office. He is an old Russian dictator dressed in modern Russian clothing.

During this past summer Congress passed a bipartisan bill punishing Russian officials implicated in the killing of Sergei Magnitsky. The Magnitsky Act, as the bill is called, was named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest tax fraud in Russian history. As a result, he was jailed and then beaten to death in a Moscow detention center in 2009.

The Russian Parliament retaliated by passing a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Putin signed the bill last week, putting an end to Americans adopting children living in horrible conditions in Russian orphanages. In the end, of course, the real victims are the 800,000 Russian orphans who have little hope of being adopted by their fellow Russians or anyone else.

As William Dobson, Politics and Foreign Affairs Editor for Slate, reported, "No one has ever accused Putin of being a warm, father-like figure. Now he just seems mean."

Most of the Russian orphans adopted by American families would live a far better life in America. I say most because not all adoptions turn out well, regardless of where they come from. Some adoptees have been abused, some killed and some have been returned to their homeland by Americans who have changed their minds. But these numbers are very small in comparison to the large number of Russian children adopted by Americans.

A few years ago my wife and I hosted two brothers from a Russian orphanage so that the boys could have a break from their daily routine and, also, to have the opportunity to introduce themselves to American families looking to adopt. The two boys were adopted by a wonderful couple and their family is an extension of our family.

Once in America, many Russian children struggle to make up for the time they lost in the orphanage. Many of them come to America malnourished and in poor overall health. The two boys we hosted weighted a meager 40 pounds each at 6 and 9 years old. Fortunately, because of the love and care received by their wonderful American family, they are both doing well. But many other children from these orphanages are not as fortunate. Many of them suffer long-term effects from the poor nutrition they received early in their lives, as well as from fetal alcohol exposure, causing a variety of developmental and medical disabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 45,112 Russian children were adopted by American families from 2009 to 2011. This represents almost 1 out of 5 of the 233,934 children adopted from all countries during the same period. In comparison, during that same period, Americans adopted 66,630 - 29 percent of all international children adopted - from China. In third place was Ethiopia, where 11,524 children were adopted by Americans. These three countries represented more than half (53 percent) of all international children adopted by Americans, according to the U.S. State Department.

An interesting side note - when announcing his approval of the adoption ban, Putin stated that one of his reasons was that the United States was one of just three nations in the world that has not ratified the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. It seems that Republicans in Congress have been blocking the U.S. ratification of the treaty because they see this U.N. Treaty - as they see all U.N. Treaties - as a threat to our national security.