MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Thursday that an adoption deal with the U.S. will remain valid until 2014 despite a new Russian law banning the practice, but no new adoptions will be permitted and only those already cleared by Russian courts before the ban will be allowed to complete.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, part of a harsh response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be violating human rights.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on independent Dozhd (Rain) TV that the adoptions agreement will remain in force until Jan. 1, 2014 due to its provision that it should be valid for a year after one of the parties terminates it, which Russia did on Jan. 1. But he added that all new adoptions and also those which hadn't been completed before the new law took effect will be banned.
"In cases when certain judicial procedures haven't been completed, a complete ban on adoptions by U.S. parents will be enforced," Peskov said. "The agreement isn't a mechanism that obliges Russia to provide its children for adoptions. It regulates the regime for our children there, the monitoring mechanism."
Peskov said that those Russian children whose adoption by U.S. families had been cleared by Russian courts will be allowed to leave.
More than 50 Russian children were preparing to join their new families in the U.S. when the ban on adoptions was passed, but it wasn't immediately clear how many of them already got a court order allowing them to leave Russia by the time the ban was introduced.
"With regard to those who had failed to leave even though all formalities had been completed, and if there are some local abuses, we will naturally consider those cases," Peskov said.
Russian and U.S. diplomats have been in intense talks over the issue.
"We are very hopeful that we will be able to complete the cases of adoption that had been begun before the law was passed. So that's something that we will be working on with the Russian government," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.
She said that in response to the State Department's request for information from American families who were trying to adopt, it had received e-mails from some 950 people and was evaluating where each party stood in the process.
Nuland added that U.S. officials would prefer not to get into specifics because "we want to see as many children be able to have the future that we'd like for them as possible, and we don't want to be putting people in different categories." She also said there are privacy concerns with regard to both the Americans and the children.
Although some top Russian officials including the foreign minister openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it into law in less than 24 hours after receiving it from the parliament, which overwhelmingly passed it.
Peskov's statement ended the controversy over the length of the agreement's validity. Russian rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov had earlier claimed that the agreement became void on Jan. 1.
The ban on U.S. adoptions has sparked outrage in Russia, where some Kremlin critics compared Putin to King Herod. A protest against the law, expected to draw tens of thousands, is planned in Moscow on Sunday.
In one case that received wide publicity in Russia, some media reported that 14-year-old Maxim Kargopoltsev, who has long hoped that he would be adopted by a U.S. couple, has written a letter to Putin asking him for permission to join his new parents.
In an apparent media counteroffensive, Russian state television and RIA Novosti on Thursday interviewed the boy, who said he hadn't written such a letter and would like to stay in Russia. The state TV also interviewed a parliament member claiming he wants to take care of the boy, whom he took shopping for a new phone and notebook.
State television also showed photographs of Maxim with the American couple, Dianna and Mil Wallen, of Woodstock, Virginia, who have been trying to adopt him for more than a year.
Reached by telephone, Mil Wallen said he had talked to Maxim five times that day and, although the boy was thrilled by the attention, he was still hoping to be adopted.
Peskov insisted that the boy hadn't sent a letter to Putin, but promised to have a look at why the U.S. couple hadn't been allowed to adopt the boy.
According to U.N. estimates, there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia, while only 18,000 Russians are now waiting to adopt a child. Russian officials claim that they want to encourage more Russians to adopt Russian orphans.
Associated Press writers Lynn Berry in Moscow and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.