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Orphanages brim, but Russia thwarts foreign adoption

This week, the last of 89 foreign-based adoption agencies failed to get reaccreditation.

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Some critics believe that nationalist politicians may be using the adoption issue to embarrass Putin and push Russian politics in an anti-Western direction. "Very strong, very dangerous forces are behind this [campaign to end international adoptions]. They want a new Iron Curtain, a new Cold War," says Boris Altschuler, director of Children's Right, a Moscow-based NGO that monitors conditions for children. "It's very possible that all these bureaucratic obstacles are, at their roots, really political ones."

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For the agencies, including many that have worked in Russia for more than a decade, the new rules come atop almost two years of escalating restrictions. In 2005, a forced reregistration of all foreign agencies caused a similar shutdown in adoptions, but the bottleneck magically disappeared after 7,000 American families waiting to adopt Russian children signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, which was published in the central newspaper Izvestia.

Are delays due to anti-Americanism?

"We've been going around this circle for years now," says Natasha Shaginian, executive director of the New York-based Happy Families International adoption agency, whose Russian accreditation expired last May. "The government keeps making the same problems with the accreditation process. Ministries keep coming up with new requirements, which makes it harder and harder. We've got many families waiting, some for two years, and there's nothing we can do."

Ms. Shaginian also cites what she calls political pressures. "Anti-Americanism is growing in Russia very fast," she says. "If anything happens with a child in the States, it creates a huge scandal here in Russia. For American agencies working here, the situation is ... difficult."

Kremlin-sponsored efforts to increase adoptions by Russian families are beginning to work, some experts say. For the past two years the numbers of domestic adoptions have exceeded foreign ones, though both combined remain a tiny sliver of the total number of Russian orphans. "The system for adoption in Russia is still very far from ideal," says Valeriya Pavlova, head of the Russian office of Kidsave International, which works with orphans. "Obviously it would be better if children could stay in their native land, but the key thing should be to get them into a family, whether in Russia or America, where they can have a chance for happiness."

The Deede family adopted two Russian children about a decade ago, using the Happy Families agency, and say they encountered few problems then. "We went to Russia, passed all the tests, filled out the paperwork, and had our children within nine months," says Mrs. Deede.

One of those children, Marina, now a young adult, says she can't understand what's going on in her former homeland. "There've been thousands of children who've been happily adopted; why would they stop that over a few cases where something bad happened?" she says. "If they were going to stop everything, why would they wave a child in front of us? We fell in love with Vova, and now they're saying we can't have him?"

[Editor's note: The original version had a different headline.]