In fact, Putin’s response was hardly surprising. He often says that nobody has the right to teach Russia what’s right and what’s wrong; for him, the Magnitsky Act was an insult. During his press conference, which lasted four and a half hours—Putin holds such events only once a year, but he likes them long and big; more than a thousand journalists were present—he brought up the United States many times, even when the question did not suggest it. In an exasperated tone, he talked about America’s own human-rights problems, the brutality of the American police, even the high number of people who took part in early voting (he suggested that the process had been used to manipulate the results.) He sounded personally hurt. “If we are slapped, we need to respond. Otherwise we will be slapped all the time.”…

In the past two decades, Americans have adopted about sixty thousand Russian children, many of them with grave medical problems. This statistic may be humiliating for Russia, and indeed it generates lot of patriotic demagoguery, but the number of unwanted orphans is hardly a matter of pride either. It may explain the defensive reaction that in Russia is not infrequently associated with “patriotism”: if Russians look less kind and generous toward orphans than their counterparts in America do, let’s find fault with Americans and punish them. Proponents of the ban on adoption ascribe ulterior motives to American parents: they adopt Russian kids not because they are humane, but because the American government lavishly compensates them; they want to steal our high-quality “genetic pool”; Americans mistreat or kill their adopted children. The few instances (nineteen over the past two decades) when Russian orphans died as a result of abuse by their American adoptive families invariably generate an outburst of noble fury.