Putin's critics have likened him to King Herod, who ruled at the time of Jesus Christ's birth and who the Bible says ordered the massacre of Jewish children to avoid being supplanted by the newborn king of the Jews.
Russia's adoption ban was retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting Russians accused of human rights abuses. It also addresses long-brewing resentment in Russia over the 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.
Cases of Russian children dying or suffering abuse at the hands of their American adoptive parents have been widely publicized in Russia, and the law banning adoptions was called the Dima Yakovlev bill after a toddler who died in 2008 when he was left in a car for hours in broiling heat.
"Yes, there are cases when they are abused and killed, but they are rare," said Sergei Udaltsov, who heads a leftist opposition group. "Concrete measures should be taken (to punish those responsible), but our government decided to act differently and sacrifice children's fates for its political ambitions."
Those opposed to the adoption ban accuse Putin's government of stoking anti-American sentiments in Russian society in an effort to solidify support among its base, the working-class Russians who live in small cities and towns and who get their news mainly from Kremlin-controlled television.
Putin has turned his back on the new Internet generation in Moscow and other large cities, exacerbating a divide in Russian society that seems likely only to deepen in coming years.
Protests against the adoption ban were held Sunday in a number of other Russian cities, but in most places only a few dozen people took part. In St. Petersburg, about 1,000 people turned out to show their opposition to the law and to Putin. Some held up a poster that read "Don't play politics using children."