Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner and a political ally of Vladimir Putin, used Twitter to accuse a Texas woman of murdering the toddler she adopted from Russia.
“An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January,” Astakhov wrote, according to a report in Russia’s state-owned news-agency RIA Novosti.
“The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries,” he continued. Astakhov also accused the mother of giving her child “psychotropic” drugs.
Max Alan Shatto, a three-year-old born in Russia, died in a West Texas hospital on January 21, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday a medical examiner said that the boy, whose Russian name was Maxim Kuzmin, had bruises on his body, though their cause will not be clear until a full autopsy is performed. Texas’ child welfare agency is investigating allegations of abuse and neglect against Shatto’s parents, according to an agency spokesman quoted by the AP. No arrests have been made.
Astakhov later acknowledged that authorities in Texas have not yet said the boy was murdered.
Fueling the flames
To many Russians, Shatto’s tragic death is further proof that American parents abuse the Russian children they adopt. At the end of last year, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning Americans from adoption Russian children. The law went into effect on January 1, 2013.
“The death of…another three-year-old child in the U.S. finally closes the question of adoption of our children in the United States,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said in a tweet.
“[The ban] was undoubtedly, absolutely correct,” Sergei Mironov told The Moscow Times.
But many observers in both Russia and the U.S. believe the ban was more about international politics than child welfare. Top officials in Russia say the adoption ban was a direct response to the Magnistky Act, a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in December that criticized Russia for human rights violations.
“What’s actually at stake is not adoptions, but rather the relationship with the West,” the independent political analyst Pavel Salin explains in an interview with The Moscow Times.
Latitude News has reported in depth on the long history of conflict that led to the ban.
Death in Texas
The Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. tells Latitude News that authorities in Ector County, Texas — where Max and his family lived — have met and shared information with Russian diplomats. “We await full information on the results of investigation and in case there is a criminal component in the death of the child, we expect that the culpable [will be] severely punished,” explains a spokesman for the embassy.
Since 2009, American parents have adopted more than 45,000 Russian children. Maxim Shatto is the 20th of those children to have died under the care of American parents, according to Pavel Astakhov. But as The Moscow Times points out, “Despite government assurances and the grim record set by Kuzmin’s death, statistics appear to show that Russian domestic adoption is as least as hazardous [as American adoption] and likely more so.”
In 2011, 24 children died at the hands of Russian foster parents, according to the article. In 2009, that number was 105 children. “The [opposition] crowd will say, ‘they die in Russia, too,’ Yes, they die in Russia, too, but this is our family. Why would we want others to kill even more?” says Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian politician whom The Moscow Times describes as a “nationalist firebrand.”
The Obama administration and various U.S. senators have repeatedly tried to get Putin to reconsider the adoption ban. Max Shatto’s death, whether he was murdered or not, may have permanently ended the discussion.
UPDATE: The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, wrote on his blog that Russian officials are twisting Shatto’s death to their own ends. “It is time for sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others,” McFaul said. “Just as it troubles me to see unfair stereotypes of Russians and Russia in the American press, it pains me to read these inaccurate portrayals of Americans and our values by some in your media.”