Donald Trump Jr. initially tried to explain away his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during the 2016 campaign as a simple meeting about adoption. When the story broke the other day that President Trump met with President Putin in an undisclosed meeting at the G-20 summit with only a Russian interpreter present, the elder Trump in an interview with The New York Times dismissed the discussion as mostly “pleasantries” and “about adoption.”
Speaking to the Russians about adoptions seems innocent enough. In fact, isn’t it honorable to be looking out for the welfare of orphaned children to make sure that they are put under the care of parents who love and care for them? Of course it is. But, for Putin, adoption is a way to get leverage for removing sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia.
Long story short, the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which froze the assets in the U.S. of Russians who were accused of human rights abuses. Now, some of these Russian officials affected by the sanctions Putin relies on to maintain his power. Amanda Taub of The New York Times explains:
Mr. Putin, though powerful, depends on the support of a small circle of powerful elites, in and out of government, who both keep him in power and help him enforce his will. In exchange, Mr. Putin sees that they are taken care of. The Magnitsky Act, by sanctioning some of those elites, sent a message that Mr. Putin might not be able to uphold his end of the bargain.
In response to what Putin viewed as a hostile act against him that could undermine his power, the Russians passed legislation they believed might give them leverage to relieve the sanctions; namely, preventing Russian children from being adopted by American parents. Why would this give him leverage? Well, in 2011, American parents adopted “about 1,000” Russian children, which was more than any other foreign country. Some adoptions were still being processed. Apparently, Putin reasoned that if adoptions ceased, these aggrieved families would become a vocal pressure group on the U.S. government and could be a useful tool for getting rid of the sanctions. In short, adoptions were a Russian tactic used to ease sanctions. As Taub reports, “…the government also made clear that the new law would be retaliation for the Magnitsky Act.”
So, it should come as no surprise that the Russians want to talk adoptions with both Donald Trump Jr. and associates (Kushner and Manafort) and President Trump himself. They want to talk adoptions, because they believe it has the potential of being a bargaining chip to relieve sanctions. To me, it sounds like Putin, et al., are trying to get the Trumps to understand that to some American families adoption is really important, and Putin is willing to help — out of the kindness of his heart — if Trump is willing do something about the Magnitsky Act.
Finally, this is what makes Trump’s comments about his previously undisclosed meeting with Putin in his New York Times interview on July 19 so fascinating:
We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting (emphasis added).
Does the President not know why adoptions are being brought up by Putin? Does he not see the Russian perspective? Is he playing dumb…or is he that clueless?
I have no idea.