But a thaw is not expected until after a US delegation – whose arrival in Moscow has been delayed by the ash cloud from Iceland's volcanic eruption – sits down next week to negotiate a binding accord that could give Russian officials far-reaching powers of supervision over Russian children adopted into American families.
The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a statement about international adoption on its web site this week that appears to harden its earlier position, taken amid a storm of outrage over the case of Artyem Savelyev, who was sent back to Russia alone on an airplane by his adoptive American mother earlier this month.
"The recent egregious example of Artyem Savelyev has shown that adopted children from Russia are defenseless against abusive American parents," the foreign ministry statement says (in Russian). Future adoptions, it adds, "will only be permitted within the framework of a bilateral agreement with the US... " No other resolution will be possible, it concludes.
Some 3,000 U.S. applications for adopting Russian children are now in limbo, according to the Joint Council on International Children's Services, which represents many US agencies engaged in international adoption. The group has posted an online petition, already signed by over 25,000 people, asking both US and Russian leaders to move swiftly to end the logjam.
In a statement, the US embassy in Russia said it has not been officially informed of a freeze, "but it appears that the recent controversy has slowed the process down."
Next week's talks will hopefully "establish the basis for a continuation of the adoption process in a way that assures the welfare of Russian children adopted in the United States," it said. But nobody seems to know what precise demands the Russians will make when the US delegation, headed by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Michael Kirby, arrives for the consultations in Moscow.
Aside from the insistence that such a deal be formalized, the Foreign Ministry has declined to spell out what Russia actually wants, beyond "effective mechanisms for control over the living conditions of adopted children from Russia and to provide for their reliable legal protection... "
Some experts say there is little that could be added to the already rigorous process carried out by registered international adoption agencies in Russia, which have undergone repeated checks by the Ministry of Science and Education, which oversees adoptions, in recent years.
"It's hard to see any concrete demands on the Russian side," says Alyona Senkevich, Russia coordinator of the Tuscon, Ariz., Hand-in-Hand adoption agency. "It seems mostly rhetorical, ie. 'to guarantee the safety of our children'."
A ban on independent adoptions?
One good thing that may come out of the scandal, she says, is that the practice of "independent adoptions" may be finally banned throughout Russia.
Most of the 15 Russian children who have died in US homes over the past two decades have been adopted independently, without the mediation of an accredited international adoption agency, a process that critics have long alleged to be short on background checking of prospective parents and susceptible to corruption.
But Nina Ostanina, a member of the State Duma's committee for family, women and children and author of a draft law on adoptions, says there are substantive – and draconian – demands that the Russian side should make.
"We want some supervision over the way a child adjusts into the new family," she says. "The way the system works now is that the adoption agency provides regular reports, but we want this job to be done by US social services and that the results be shared with consular services of Russia... If the child doesn't feel well in the new family, or parents realize they can't cope, the Russian side wants the right to bring the child back to Russia. Why is it that, upon crossing the border, children lose all connection with their Motherland?"
Power to interfer in US homes?
In practice, that would give Russian officials at least indirect power to interfere in American households, which would seem to explain why the US has so far resisted signing a bilateral agreement on adoptions with Moscow.
But Ms. Ostanina says Italy has already concluded a similar deal, and that nine other countries are negotiating about it with Russia.
"All we want to do is prevent abuse of children, or see any more cases where they are returned to us as if they were a parcel," she says.
Tatiana Tulchinskaya, director of the independent Moscow-based Here and Now Foundation, which works with orphans, says any deal that's struck is likely to be mostly declarative in nature.
"In Artyem's case, there was a report about his life in the family but it contained no alarming signs. I cannot imagine how that happened," she says. "There already are enough safeguards in existing legislation, the problem is to make them work... .Maybe the regulations can be toughened and reports might be sent until the child is older," she says. "I suppose that officials of the Russian embassy might engage in supervision, in addition to local social services, but, frankly, I can't really imagine how that would work."
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