It may not signal a return to the frosty relations of old, but the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign into a law a measure banning the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. families certainly feels like Cold War politics.

During the height of the Cold War, the response by the USSR to the arrest of an alleged spy or foreign policy slight by the West would be something in kind — such as the ousting of an American businessman or diplomat on baseless espionage charges. That's how the game was played.

So it was that Putin's signing of the bill calling for an immediate ban on adoptions to U.S. families is believed to be in response to President Barack Obama signing a bill on Dec. 14 imposing U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia. Known as the Magnitsky Act, the measure is named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who apparently was beaten to death and left to die in 2009 in a Moscow prison. Why? Because he had uncovered what is believed to be the largest tax fraud scheme in the nation's history, involving numerous government officials who took money from the state through a fraudulent rebate system.

The timing of the anti-adoption bill is curious given that it comes shortly after Russia and the United States agreed to additional measures to protect children as well as families involved in inter-country adoptions. That measure has now been rendered moot.

Unfortunately, while Russia plays politics, children in orphanages and would-be parents in America suffer the consequences.

According to Russian officials, some 52 Russian children were in the process of being adopted by U.S. adults. Many of those families no doubt already had rooms prepared and had flight reservations for the day they would pick up their new family member. But those dreams have been extinguished by a law that takes effect on Jan. 1 with no guarantees of a better future of the many Russian children in orphanages.

In passing this measure, Putin and Russian lawmakers stated that their country needed to do a better job of caring for their own children. But their actions speak more of political retaliation than rehabilitation for their stark state-run orphanages, which currently house some 600,000 children.

Sadly, many American families choose to adopt foreign children, often through the help of church-based organizations, because it's quicker, less expensive and less emotionally challenging than adopting children in America. Once the adoption is approved, there's far less of a chance of the custody being revoked due to a change of heart by the birth parents, which is frequently the case in America.

Now, the hopes of many American families, some here in the Bay Area, are being dashed this holiday not by parental decisions but by politics.

If Russia lawmakers' intent is to improve the conditions of their country's orphanages, they should be applauded. But abruptly halting those who desire to offer an unwanted child a new and better life here in America isn't being nationalistic. It's just being cruel.