Putin backs disputed US adoption ban
MOSCOW, Russia - President Vladimir Putin on Thursday backed tough pending legislation making it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children in reprisal for a new US human rights law.
But he also used the first major press conference of his third term to deny running an "authoritarian system" in which all branches of power and most facets of society closely followed the dictates of Kremlin rule.
The disputed legislation is dubbed the Dima Yakovlev bill, in honour of a Russian child who suffocated in a locked car during the summer heat in the United States in 2008.
It would end around 1,000 adoptions a year is the latest sign of the rapid decline in Russia-US relations since Putin's election in March.
The bill also includes a clause banning any Russian non-government organisations that are involved in politics and receive funding from the United States.
The State Duma lower house of parliament is due to vote on the bill in its final reading on Friday before it passes to the upper chamber and then for the president's signature.
Even senior government members such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have come out against the measure and some media commentators had expected Putin to show off his rarely-seen humanitarian streak by watering it down.
But the Russian strongman indicated that he would sign the adoption ban into law.
"I understand that this was an emotional response by the State Duma, but I think that it was appropriate," Putin said.
"I have not seen the law yet. I do not know its details -- I have not seen the text," he said.
"But yes, I have said I support it. The only question is how exactly it will look."
His comments came as the latest reminder of the chilling of relations between former Cold War foes -- a frost that kept President Barack Obama from visiting Russia last year.
Much of the latest mistrust stems from Putin's often-repeated belief that Washington was responsible for inciting mass protests last winter against the former KGB agent's return to Russia's top office.
But modern Russia's longest-serving politician also used specific examples of US court cases involving his countrymen, which he said showed up the failures of the Western justice system.
Putin complained especially bitterly that local US courts had acquitted several Americans of manslaughter charges following the death of Russian children under their care.
"The judges will not even let us attend (the US trials) as observers," Putin said during the four-and-a-half-hour event at Moscow's World Trade Centre.
Russia's new legislation came after US President Barack Obama last week signed into law the so-called Magnitsky Act -- a measure honouring a Russian lawyer who died in custody in Moscow in 2009 after blowing the whistle on a $235 million police embezzlement scheme.
Putin argued that the United States had no moral right to pass judgement on Russia's legal system.
"They themselves have plenty of problems," Putin said. "I have already talked about this: listen, Abu Ghraib... Guantanamo.
"And what's more they don't just hold them in prison without charge, they hold them in shackles, like in the mediaeval ages," Putin fumed.
Putin was equally emotive when asked about his purported authoritarian tendencies.
"If I considered an authoritarian or totalitarian system preferable, I would have simply changed the constitution," Putin said.
"It was easy enough to do."
The press conference coincided with news of a decision by a Moscow judge to reduce the prison sentence of one of Putin's fiercest critics by two years.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- founder of the now-defunct Yukos oil group, who openly funded the opposition at the turn of the past decade before being arrested and jailed on tax charges in 2004 -- is now set to be released in 2014.
Putin once again denied any involvement in the case.
"I want everyone to hear this -- I had no effect on the work of the law enforcement authorities and the courts," he stressed.
The conference crowned weeks of speculation about Putin's state of health following his decision not to follow his expected foreign travel schedule since the end of February.
But Putin looked strong and always in control as he rattled off economic statistics without pausing and defended his brand of iron-willed rule.
He only appeared to become defensive when asked about his two adult daughters -- a subject off-limits to all media.
"Everything is fine with my children," Putin snapped. "They are in Moscow. They study and work a little. And everything is fine in their personal lives and in terms of professional growth. I am proud of them." - Agence France Presse