Posts Tagged ‘Pavel Astakhov’

March 2013

The Man Behind Putin’s Adoption Ban Once Tried to Investigate Russia’s Spy Agency

The Atlantic

Children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov is now the face of Putin’s Magnitsky retaliation law, but in a past life he was an anti-FSB advocate.

For a man known as Russia’s Judge Judy, Pavel Astakhov has had more luck causing a diplomatic crisis than any family court judge ever had. Appointed Russia’s child right’s commissioner in 2009 by former President Dmitry Medvedev, Astakhov’s domestic and international profile has risen steadily since, culminating in his patronage of the new state law banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian orphans and describing his critics as “pedophiles” who are either “blind or stupid.”

The measure is built right into the so-called “Dima Yakovlev Law,” the Duma’s broad answer to the newly passed Magnitsky Act, which blacklists and sanctions Russian officials credibly accused of gross human rights violations. Dima’s Law has been hysterically presented in the Russian state-controlled media as a necessary corrective to a spate of American adoptive parents mistreating or even killing their wards, with Astakhov taking center stage as a Cassandra against the “export” of the some 60,000 native sons and daughters who’ve found homes in the United States since 1991.

Yet Astakhov’s peregrinations from post-Soviet legal eagle and intellectual celebrity into spokesman for Vladimir Putin’s most frivolously nasty anti-American measure is particularly fascinating given the fact that he doesn’t quite fit the prototype of Kremlin flack. He formerly defended Vladimir Gusinsky, the first billionaire oligarch and media mogul to have his empire confiscated by the state, under the direct threat of arrest or worse by a then-new-minted President Putin; he also represented Edmond Pope, an American businessman and retired naval officer, who was convicted of espionage, then pardoned.

Best known for his Court TV-style reality series (where the defendants are played by actors), a constant stream of self-help books on teaching Russians all about property rights, real estate and family law, and another constant stream of Grisham-esque legal thrillers, Astakhov has a Masters of Law from the University of Pittsburgh, making him one of the few top state officials to be partially educated in the United States. (Like most state officials, his eldest son studied in Britain and then New York City.) He was on these shores when al-Qaeda attacked on September 11, and has since taken to referring to America as his “second motherland.” He certainly has favorite holiday destinations. A few months ago, Seven Days magazine (think People) ran a J. Crew ad-cum-puff piece about Astakhov and his attractive family, explaining how his wife Svetlana not only gave birth to their youngest son in Nice, but then had the child baptized in Cannes. In what would have been cosmopolitan heresy for any other Russian official, Astakhov favorably compared the French Riviera’s ob-gyn and neonatal systems to those of his first motherland: “We really had the largest ward in the hospital: three rooms, a parental bedroom, a children’s room and a guest room. But all this, including the medical care, cost three times less than what it would cost in an elite Moscow hospital.” Even the food, he said, was better than back home.

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