The Kremlin has decided to ban Americans from adopting Russian children, but a statement that its adoption deal with the U.S. will remain valid until 2014 has left the status of adoption efforts confusing. Here's a look at the issues:
THE LEGAL BASE
Last July, after nearly a year of hesitation, Russia ratified an agreement with the United States setting terms for adoption. The agreement was worked out in the wake of a 2010 scandal over an American woman who sent her 7-year-old adopted Russian son to Moscow alone on an airplane, saying he had behavioral problems and she didn't want him anymore. That incident galvanized Russian resentment over adoptions, which had brewed for years over cases of Russian adoptees dying or suffering abuse at the hands of their American parents. Many Russians also found widespread American adoptions distasteful for their implication that Russians were too poor or apathetic to take care of their own.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning adoption of Russian children by Americans. The law took effect Jan. 1, and officials initially indicated that all adoptions would halt that day. However, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov now says that adoptions which have been approved by courts but not yet executed would be allowed to proceed.
When the law was passed, officials said some 52 Russian children were in the pipeline to get American families; Peskov says there have been court decisions in only six of those cases.
Since 1992, more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans, according to the U.S. State Department.
The U.S.-Russian agreement specifies that either party can abandon the pact upon one year's notice. That means the agreement remains in force until 2014.
But the agreement does not specify whether adoption proceedings can continue during the one-year notice period. It says only that disputes on interpretation of the agreement must be worked out in negotiations between the "executive bodies" — the Russian Education Ministry and the State Department — or, failing resolution there, through diplomatic channels.
Also unclear is whether cases in which a court has approved an adoption are firm. Russian law says a court can repeal an adoption "in the interests of the child."
The United States aims to push Russia to move ahead with adoptions during the interim period. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday: "We are very hopeful that we will be able to complete the cases of adoption that had been begun before the law was passed."
Peskov, however, showed the Kremlin is unwilling to give ground, saying: "In cases when certain judicial procedures haven't been completed, a complete ban on adoptions by U.S. parents will be enforced."
Both the spirit and the letter of the law are likely to come under lengthy and heated discussion.
Although several top officials, including the foreign and education ministers, opposed the law or expressed reservations about it, repeal appears politically impossible.
The ban was put forward by lawmakers from Putin's power-base United Russia party and overwhelmingly approved — only eight parliament members voted against it. If Putin were to try to push for its repeal, he would appear out of touch with his own cadre or unable to control it.
In addition, the law serves Putin's strategic purposes. Putin is deeply at odds with the United States over its alleged support for opposition forces and arrogance in world affairs. The ban allows Russia to emphasize its tensions with Washington without taking measures that would obstruct business cooperation or disarmament initiatives.
Instead of stepping back on adoption, Russia may choose to go even further. A parliament member from United Russia told the ITAR-Tass news agency that a measure to ban adoptions by almost all other foreign countries is expected to be offered in the near future. But other United Russia members have spoken against the idea.