Using babies as pawns in a geopolitical snit is stunningly cold-blooded, even for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But that's what a ban his country imposed in December -- prohibiting American families from adopting Russian children -- is all about. It's retaliation against the United States for a law that sanctioned a few Russian officials for human rights abuses, and part of a more general pushback against perceived meddling in Russia's domestic affairs.

Tragically, 500 to 1,000 families, including Dania and Nick Mavros of Queens, have seen their dreams of parenthood dashed as a result. The Mavros had all but completed the adoption process -- and even spent a week in Russia in December visiting and falling in love with the 1-year-old boy they call Ari and thought would soon be their son -- when Putin and the Russian Parliament put their hopes on indefinite hold.

Unfortunately, the United States doesn't have much leverage to move Russian officials to abandon the cruel ban.

The United States gives Russia about $50 million a year in financial assistance, and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is right to call on Congress to withhold some of that money if Putin doesn't find it in his heart to relent. But Putin has recently rejected aid from the United States intended for humanitarian purposes and to help secure Russia's nuclear stockpile, so threatening to withhold dollars isn't likely to work.

What might is a personal, president-to-president appeal. President Barack Obama should reach out to Putin and urge him to press Parliament to rescind the ban.

Caring Americans might be able to harness social media to help too. Digital networking has proved extraordinarily powerful in nurturing social change in recent years. If used to help bolster pro-adoption protesters, like the 20,000 or so who marched in the frigid streets of Moscow two weeks ago, social networking could make Putin more receptive to diplomatic overtures. He is a politician, after all, and may not relish growing grassroots condemnation of the policy as the world watches.

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What's needed here is a triumph of compassion over politics.