Two weeks after Russian authorities said they were halting U.S. adoptions of Russian children in the wake of an adoption scandal, U.S. officials said the adoptions aren't officially suspended.
On Wednesday, Pavel Astakhov, Russia's ombudsman for children, told the BBC that Russian officials would not allow adoptions to proceed until U.S. officials signed a new adoption treaty with Russia. On the same day, the U.S. State Department issued a press release on its website, stating, "There has been no official suspension in adoptions of Russian orphans by American parents."
It's a perplexing dynamic for an estimated 3,000 American families waiting to adopt Russian children. Some families have just begun the adoption process. But others have plane tickets and travel plans to Russian orphanages. The looming question: Will they be able to bring their children home?
The trouble for adoptive families began two weeks ago when a Tennessee woman placed the son she adopted from Russia on a plane to Moscow alone with a note: The boy had severe behavioral problems, she said. She no longer wanted to care for him.
The action drew quick fury from Russian officials, who said they would halt all adoptions to U.S. families. They demanded a new adoption treaty with the United States, saying the process could take six months. U.S. officials met with Russian authorities this week, adding that talks would resume on May 12.
But contrary to Russian assertions, the U.S. State Department also said all adoptions were not halted. In a press release Thursday, the State Department said that some Russian officials were slowing or delaying some adoptions, but that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is still issuing immigrant visas for adopted children using normal procedures. The statement informed families with a court date to finalize an adoption in Russia that some courts had postponed appointments. But it added, "Many adoption cases are continuing to move forward in the courts."
It's unclear if Russian authorities plan to slowly and quietly allow most adoptions to proceed while loudly demanding new concessions from the United States. But it is clear that the early demands from Russian officials aren't encouraging: They include allowing Russian officials and diplomats to enter the homes of American families who have adopted Russian orphans. Another reported demand: requiring that American families maintain adopted children's language and culture.
U.S. officials refused to comment on the Russian demands, but said this week's meeting was fruitful and that they would send another delegation to Moscow in May to continue the negotiations. In the meantime, the stakes remain high, especially for Russian orphans waiting to come home.