Despite a new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled today that orphans must be allowed to come to the United States if a court approved their adoption before January 1, 2013. The Moscow Times reports the decision applies to around 52 children, 29 of whom are already believed to have left the country in recent days.
The ruling was necessary, writes the Times’ reporter Jonathan Earle, because local authorities are reportedly trying to prevent adopted children from leaving.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed that some Russian adoptees have begun their journey to the U.S., though it would not say how many. But that still leaves up to 1,000 children in limbo because their adoptions haven’t been finalized yet. Pavel Astahkov, Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner and a vocal proponent of the ban, believes the children will find homes in Russia.
“Russian parents are standing alongside the American adoption agencies, waiting in line to adopt an orphan,” he says.
But Astakhov, a Kremlin ally, was contradicted by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, who opposes the ban. She says the “supply” of orphans well outstrips the number of prospective Russian parents, telling the state news agency RIA Novosti that there are 128,000 orphans waiting to be adopted, but only 18,000 Russian families willing to take them in.
The Russian government has sent a host of mixed messages about adoption. That might be because the ban is more about domestic politics than the crisis of Russia’s uncared for children (there are around 650,000 in the public orphanage system). An editorial by Vedimosti, a Russian business daily, accused Astakhov and other nationalist leaders of shedding “crocodile tears” for Russia’s orphans.
In the Indian daily, the Hindu, an op-ed by Russian journalist Vladimir Radyuhin explains the larger bill to which the adoption ban was attached places severe restrictions on “politically active” (i.e. opposition) NGOs operating in Russia. As Radyuhin writes:
Mr. Putin sought to kill two birds with one stone: strike a blow against his foes and boost popularity among his conservative constituency by stoking anti-Americanism. In a recent poll, more than 75 per cent of Russians said that they supported the ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans.
That poll, conducted by a state-run agency, has been criticized as inaccurate, but it does reflect a wider belief in Russia that American parents routinely abuse adopted Russian kids. Since 1996, 19 Russian children have died in the U.S., with each new case leading to a wave of public anger. Still, around 30,000 Russians demonstrated against the ban in Moscow earlier this month. The controversy over adoption has exposed an already raw rift between nationalists who tend to live in smaller cities or rural areas and a more educated middle-class of urban professionals in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
To give you an idea of the political climate in Russia today, the leader of a popular far-right party just announced he will propose a law banning the use of English words that have Russian equivalents. Some analysts speculate we may well be witnessing the opening salvos of a new Cold War.
Editor’s Note: The adoption crisis between Russia and the U.S. stretches back for years. If you want more on the sordid backstory behind the ban, check out our in-depth piece: “As adoption crisis intensifies, U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate.” You can also visit a full collection of our stories on international adoption here.