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Russia Halts U.S. Adoptions, U.S. 'Not Aware' Of Policy Change

Pavel Astakhov, the Kremlin's ombudsman for children's rights, with Artyom Savelyev, who was adopted by a U.S. woman and sent alone on a flight back to Moscow
Pavel Astakhov, the Kremlin's ombudsman for children's rights, with Artyom Savelyev, who was adopted by a U.S. woman and sent alone on a flight back to Moscow

MOSCOW -- Russia has stopped child adoptions by U.S. citizens following the case of an American woman who sent her adopted son back to Russia by plane, saying she did not want him and that she feared he was dangerous.

Andrei Nesterenko, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference in Moscow on April 15 that Russia is demanding the two countries sign an agreement to regulate adoptions before the suspension is lifted.

"Any further adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, which are now suspended, will be possible only if such an agreement is reached," he said.

The case of the boy who was sent back to Russia became a cause celebre after Justin Hansen, born Artyom Savelyev, who was adopted by Tennessee native Torry Hansen six months ago, turned up alone at Moscow's Domodedovo airport with a note from his adopted mother saying she did not want him anymore. The adopted mother's note claimed the boy was violent, had severe psychological problems, and that Russian authorities had lied about his condition.

A U.S. team will travel to Russia next week for talks to discuss the two countries' adoption agreements in meetings that were arranged before the Hansen case occurred.

Nesterenko said there will be pressure on U.S. officials to provide guarantees that future cases of abuse won't occur.

"Only such a bilateral agreement that contains effective mechanisms for both of our competent authorities, including members of Russian consular offices, to monitor conditions in which adopted Russian children live and will provide reliable guarantees against tragedies similar to those that have already taken place in the United States," Nesterenko said.

U.S. 'Not Aware'

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. officials were "not aware of a suspension" in Russian adoptions by American families.

"Our understanding is that the comments made recently by Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov referred to a suspension of, I think, one particular [adoption] agency, not a broad based suspension, and we are not aware of any change in Russian policy at this point," Crowley said.

He said the team of U.S. officials traveling to Moscow next week will be "looking for ways to work with Russia to strengthen understandings and arrangements for continued adoptions of Russian children by loving American families."

The United States shares Russia's concern about cases of abuse by U.S. families with adoptive Russian children, Crowley said, but he added that "there are many thousands of Russian children who have not been adopted by Russian families" and Washington does not believe such international adoptions should be discontinued.

"We would not want to see a moratorium that would adversely affect these children, so we will make that case both at the embassy and with our meetings with Russian [officials] next week," he said.

U.S. law-enforcement officials in Hansen's home state of Tennessee say they are conducting an investigation to see if the adopted mother committed a crime under U.S. law.

Russian Outrage

Foreign Minister Lavrov called the case "the last straw." There have been more than a dozen cases where adopted children have been killed by parents in the United States since the early1990s.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week said the boy "fell into a very bad family."

"It is a monstrous deed on the part of his adoptive parents, to take the kid and virtually throw him out with the airplane in the opposite direction," Medvedev said. "And to say 'I'm sorry I could not cope with it, take everything back' is not only immoral but also against the law."

The U.S. Embassy could not say what the ministry meant by suspension, whether it was referring to future adoptions or to ongoing adoptions. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Education Ministry answered calls during the preparation of this story.

U.S. Embassy spokesman David Siefkin said that U.S. officials were planning to visit Justin Hansen soon and that the U.S. and Russian governments would meet next week to sort out the situation.

"We're planning to have someone visit the child in the next few days. Next week a delegation will come from Washington and meet with the Russian government to try and stop this kind of horrible incident. We want to find ways so that will never happen again."

Last week U.S. State Department spokesman Crowley was asked if Russia was justified in considering suspending adoptions.

"If Russia chooses to suspend these adoptions -- these are Russian citizens, that is Russia's right," Crowley said. "We would like to see these adoptions continue, but we understand the concern that Russia has. We share that concern."

Russia tightened the rules for adoption by foreigners in 2006 after cases of abuse and killings in the United States were reported in the Russian media. Around 1,800 Russian children were adopted in the United States last year.

More than 10,000 American families have signed an Internet petition asking Russia not to halt adoptions following the outcry about the case. Media reports say that neither side thinks there will be major big problems coming to an agreement. U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said negotiations had already begun.

Separately, a Russian state-controlled channel reported that a Russian couple who adopted a child in 2003 had sold him for drugs to a family in the Dominican Republic.

The boy is now in a home in the Caribbean country after being taken into care because he was beaten by the family, the channel reported.