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Adoption Flap Not Expected to Last Long

In this image taken from Rossia 1 television channel TV, 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev is seen getting into a minivan outside a police department office in Moscow on Thursday, April 8. AP

A U.S. government delegation will arrive in Moscow next week to discuss rules for American parents who want to adopt Russian children, setting the stage for a resolution of a years-long irritant in U.S.-Russian relations.

Adoptions, a hot-button issue after several Russian children died at the hands of their U.S. parents in recent years, jumped to the forefront last Thursday when a single Tennessee mother sent her 7-year-old Russian son to Moscow with a note saying she no longer wanted him.

President Dmitry Medvedev denounced the action as a "monstrous deed" by a "bad family." Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was "the last straw" in a series of bad adoptions and threatened to suspend all adoptions to American families.

But shock and sympathy has also poured in from U.S. government officials, the U.S. parents of adopted Russian children and other Americans.

Although the mother's actions were dismaying, the incident will not escalate into an international scandal and, to the contrary, promises to ultimately improve relations by convincing the U.S. government to finally discuss a long-running Russian demand for an international agreement on adoptions, analysts said.

“I don’t see any [Kremlin] desire to turn this into a political issue,” said Fyodor Lyukanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

Final arrangements are now being worked out for a visit next week by a State Department team led by Michael Kirby, a deputy assistant secretary who handles adoption issues, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday.

"In fact, this trip was being put together even before last week’s incident," Crowley told reporters in Washington, according to an e-mailed transcript. "But clearly, this latest situation will be among those things discussed."

He did not give precise dates for the visit.

U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said the team would discuss "an agreement on bilateral understanding" to ensure the welfare of adopted Russian children.

"Many thousands of Russian children have been adopted by American families, and we hope that children here who are unable to find a family in Russia to adopt them can continue to have this chance," Beyrle said in a statement.

U.S. families adopted about 1,600 Russian children last year, according to the National Council For Adoption, a U.S. nongovernmental organization.

Another senior U.S. official, Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, will visit Moscow, St. Petersburg and Barnaul soon, and she might also discuss adoptions, the State Department said.

Lavrov said Friday that an accord to ensure the well-being of adopted children must be reached before further adoptions are approved, and he noted that Washington had balked at signing such an agreement in the past.

Medvedev has appeared to support a halt in adoptions, telling U.S. television network ABC News on Friday: “We should understand what happens to our children, or we will have to cease the practice of adoption of our children by American parents."

At least 15 Russian children have been killed by their U.S. parents since the mid-1990s, according to the Prosecutor General's Office. More than 60,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans over the same period, according to the National Council For Adoption. Among the more prominent parents is former U.S. astronaut Thomas Stafford, who adopted two Russian teenage boys in 2004.

But children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said up to 15 children adopted by Russian parents die every year. “If we compare the statistics for dead children in Russia with America, it is not in our favor,” he told reporters Monday.

About 1,220 children adopted by Russian parents died between 1993 and 2008, according to data compiled by the children ombudsmen's office.

Astakhov recommended on Tuesday that the Justice Ministry take over adoption issues from the Education and Science Ministry and said Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko supported the idea.

Despite the tough Russian talk about suspending adoptions, no concrete actions have been taken — a sign, analysts said, that Russia will let the incident blow over if the United States agrees to the adoption agreement.

But Elisabeth Bartholet, a professor of law at Harvard University and an expert on international adoptions, cautioned that better enforcement of existing adoption procedures would be better than negotiating the agreement.

“Adding new restrictive requirements to the adoption process typically simply means that children will be kept in institutions for longer," she told The Moscow Times. "This makes them much harder to parent and will increase the chances that the adoption will not work out.”

Artyom Savelyev's adopted grandmother took the boy to Washington last week and sent him unaccompanied on a United Airlines flight to Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, wh ere a tour guide hired for $200 by the grandmother picked him up and deposited him at the Education and Science Ministry. The boy was carrying a note from his mother, Torry Hansen, that accused Russian orphanage workers of lying about the boy during the adoption process.

"He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues. … After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child," the letter said.

The deputy director of the orphanage in the Primorye region town of Partizansk denied misleading Hansen and expressed surprise that the adoption had not worked out. Nadezhda Guseva said Hansen had visited the boy three times before the adoption was finalized last September and had “made a positive impression” with the staff. “She behaved like a woman who expects to take a child,” she said.

The orphanage is home to 82 children, and six of its former wards now live in the United States.

Guseva said the orphanage has kept in touch with the U.S. parents of most of the children. “We have a very friendly relationship with them,” she said.

Education and Science Ministry officials, meanwhile, are trying to establish contact with Hansen, who they say remains the legal parent of the boy because she has not renounced her rights in court. A ministry spokesman said the note from Hansen carried by the boy was not a legal document.

U.S. authorities are also trying to speak with the mother.

The boy is currently undergoing checks at a Moscow hospital. What will happen to him next is unclear.

The family of a Russian diplomat has expressed interest in adopting the boy, said Astakhov, who met with the boy on Friday in a meeting featured prominently on state television.

Guseva said his old orphanage was also ready to take him back. “He has many friends here, and many still remember him,” she said.

The boy will celebrate his 8th birthday on Friday.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Artyom Savelyev was adopted in September 2008. He was adopted in September 2009.

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