Editor’s note: In the wake of the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Magnitsky Act, the Russian government has banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans. In an interview with Ray Suarez of PBS’s NewsHour along with Lauren Koch, Fiona Hill explains the internal politics that have led Russia to take this step. Read an excerpt below.
Ray Suarez: Fiona Hill, is this even about adopted children at all, or is this about a more confrontational stance towards the United States?
Fiona Hill: Well, sadly, it is now about adopted children, which, of course, the story makes very clear.
But it’s come out of really campaign politics on both sides of the United States and in Russia. Mr. Putin faced, actually, a rather surprisingly bruising campaign to become president again, in spite of the fact that everybody saw him as a shoo-in.
And as part of that campaign, he really did ratchet up anti-American sentiment. He blamed protests that took place around the elections for the Russian parliament and around the presidential elections that brought many thousands of people out in the streets in Moscow and elsewhere, he blamed all those on U.S. support.
He’s taken a lot of punitive action against U.S. NGOs. He’s declared many non-governmental organizations in Russia that receive foreign funding, especially funding from the United States, to be foreign agents. People now under a new legislation have to register themselves as foreign agents. And, unfortunately, this is also part of that.
Suarez: So, by ratcheting up anti-American sentiment, does this kind of thing play well where with the Russian public, keeping the orphans inside the country, rather than letting them go to the United States to live?
Hill: Well, certain amounts of punitive action against the United States does play particularly well.
Leave of Absence
Part of the story is also the Magnitsky bill, the legislation that’s just gone through the Congress that the president signed last week. And this is seen in many respects as sort of a tit for tat.
The U.S. always, in the Russian view, applies a double standard. It is always taking punitive action and applying sanctions against Russia. So this does play well.
However, as I think as we saw from the clips at the very beginning, there’s been some soul-searching on the part of many Russians about this particular bill, because this is a disproportionate action. This is something that actually hurts Russian children, as well as ordinary families. So this is really sort of taking things in a very different angle.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.