It was like putting a match to a powder keg.
Reports of the death in Texas of a Russian adoptee are producing an outpouring of outrage from Russian political elites aimed directly at the United States.
"Why should we send our children to certain death?" Deputy Chairwoman of the Federation Council Svetlana Orlova told the Interfax news agency.
Orlova urged immediate legislation that would stop the several dozen U.S. adoptions that were already approved before Russia’s ban took effect in January.
The facts in the case of the January 21 death of 3-year-old Maksim Kuzmin, who was given the name Max Shatto after he came to the United States, remain unclear and are under investigation by officials in Texas.
Rush To Judgement
Russia’s state-controlled Channel One newscast, however, showed no fear of rushing to judgment.
"Three-year-old Maksim Kuzmin, yet another child from Russia killed by adoptive parents in America, was given to his family from the Pechorsk Orphanage, just like Dmitry Yakovlev, who died in the United States in 2008,” the station reported. “Also, we have learned that the boy had no psychological or mental-development issues, as his new parents claimed while literally stuffing the child with the most powerful drugs."
Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions was officially prompted by Yakovlev’s death and the measure is called the "Dima Yakovlev law" in Russia. The Channel One report ended by saying that Kuzmin is the 20th Russian adoptee to die in the United States.
Likewise, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin pulled no punches. He said on February 19 that his agency will "take all necessary measures to make sure the killers of the Russian child receive the most severe punishment."
Russian media have been full of unconfirmed reports that Maksim had been given powerful psychoactive drugs. The Foreign Ministry’s human rights and rule of law official, Konstantin Dolgov, posted on Twitter that the suspected drugs are normally used to treat schizophrenia in adults. He also reported that physical evidence of abuse had been found on Maksim’s body.
No arrests have been made in the case. The sheriff's office in Ector County says they are waiting for autopsy results, according to U.S. press reports.
The doctor at the orphanage in Russia's Pskov Oblast, where Kuzmin was adopted from, said he suffered from a heart condition, Russian media reported.
The United States has promised to keep Russia fully informed of the progress of the investigation into Kuzmin’s death. The U.S. Embassy reported on February 19 that the "State Department and local authorities have been working closely with the Russian Consulate in Houston for weeks."
The Duma opened its session on the same day with a moment of silence, at the request of United Russia Deputy Olga Batalina, deputy chairwoman of the Committee on Family, Women, and Children.
"This tragedy concerns each and every one of us personally,” she said before asking deputies to rise and join her in a silent tribute.
Batalina’s committee said it plans to invite U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul to come to the Duma and answer questions on the matter.
Andrei Turchak, governor of Pskov Oblast, where Kuzmin and his brother, Kirill, and Dima Yakovlev were adopted, announced that all U.S. adoptions in his region have been suspended.
"The official process of returning Kirill will be launched [on February 19],” he said. “In addition, we are stopping all already-initiated adoption processes for all families until an adoption commission has been created which from now on will collectively consider the personal cases of each adopted child."
Kirill was adopted by the same parents as Maksim, and Russian officials fear he will be put into foster care if he is not returned to Russia. Turchak said that 10 families in Pskov Oblast had already expressed a willingness to adopt the 2-year-old.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, used the Kuzmin case to castigate the political opposition and several thousand other Russians who demonstrated against the Dima Yakovlev law in Moscow on January 13.
"They are scoundrels, good-for-nothings, swine," he told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, told Russian television that the United States has not been able to provide information about many of the estimated 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by U.S. citizens over the last 20 years.
Although the Russian government believes 20 of those children have died, Astakhov says there is no way of telling if the figure might actually be higher.
"Just looking at the numbers -- when we compare the number of children on consular reports as taken out of Russia and [the number of] children who were actually sent from here, they don't match,” he said. “Over the last 10 years, about 2,000 children have been lost -- just in the process of transfer from Russia to the United States. They are lost. We don't know about these 2,000 children -- are they alive, murdered, living happily, or not?"
United Russia Duma Deputy Aleksei Pushkov, head of the Duma’s International Relations Committee and a leading force behind the Russian law barring the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, drew his conclusions on Twitter.
"The death of yet another 3-year-old child of ours in the United States brings the matter of the adoption of our children in the United States to a close once and for all," he wrote.