Lawmakers from Russia's upper house of parliament gathered on December 26 to vote on one of this year's most divisive bills, a proposal to bar all U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.
Despite the intense controversy surrounding the bill, which critics say sacrifices orphans to political considerations, the 143 members of the Federation Council nonetheless unanimously approved the draft law.
The barrage of criticism -- and the protest rally outside parliament -- did not appear to spoil the festive mood in the Federation Council, either.
Once the bill was endorsed, lawmakers quickly proceeded to celebrate the upcoming New Year and what was their last session of 2012.
The festivities began with a concert by Moscow's prestigious Helikon opera, which performed arias from Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus," Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann," Giuseppe Verdi's "La traviata," and other classics.
Then came a recital by variety singer Gennady Khasanov, rumored to be on friendly terms with Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko, and a banquet.
A clown and Father Frost, the Russian version of Santa Claus, were also on hand to entertain lawmakers.
The anti-U.S. adoption bill -- retaliation for a U.S. law that targets Russians deemed to be human rights violators -- has drawn outrage both domestically and internationally.
The U.S. State Department criticized the draft law as "misguided." Several senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have taken the unusual step of criticizing the bill. President Vladimir Putin, however, has indicated he will sign it into law.
U.S. citizens account for the bulk of foreign adoptions of Russian children, including many with disabilities.
But lawmakers on December 26 said they were only just warming up and planned to start the new year by extending the ban on adoptions to all foreigners.
As Russia's "Kommersant" daily ironically titled its report on this week's lavish merriments at the Federation Council, "Children Deserve The Very Best."
-- Claire Bigg