US-Russia tiff stuns adopting couples

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin’s decision Thursday to endorse a ban on US citizens adopting Russian children dealt a serious blow to an already strained diplomatic relationship, but for hundreds of Americans enmeshed in the costly, complicated adoption process, the impact was deeply personal.

“I’m a little numb,’’ said Maria Drewinsky, a massage therapist from Sea Cliff, N.Y., who was in the final stages of adopting Alyosha, a 5-year-old boy.

Both she and her husband have flown twice to visit him, and they speak to him weekly on the telephone.


‘‘We have clothes and a bedroom all set up for him,’’ she said, ‘‘and we talk about him all the time as our son.’’

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But the couple are starting to fear that Alyosha may never get to New York, after Putin’s said he would sign the adoption ban into law, as part of a bill retaliating against a new US law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia.

If the ban comes into force Tuesday, as called for in the law, it stands to upend the plans of many US families in the final stages of adopting in Russia. Already, the process can cost $50,000 or more, requires repeated trips overseas, and typically entails maddening encounters with bureaucracy. The ban would apparently nullify a pact on adoptions between Russia and the United States that was ratified this year and went into effect Nov. 1.

The bill was approved unanimously by the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Parliament. Putin said that he would sign it as well as a resolution also adopted Wednesday that calls for improvements in Russia’s child welfare system.

Putin also brushed aside criticism that the law would deny some Russian orphans the chance for a much better life in the United States. In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted to Americans, more than to any other country, but still a tiny number given that nearly 120,000 children in Russia are eligible for adoption.


‘‘There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours,’’ Putin said. ‘‘So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?’’

US officials have urged the Russian government not to entangle orphaned children in politics. Obama administration officials have been debating how strongly to respond to the adoption ban, given other aspects of the country’s relationship with Russia.

The United States relies on overland routes through Russia to ship supplies to military units in Afghanistan and has enlisted Russia’s help in containing Iran’s nuclear program.

The bill that includes the adoption ban was drafted in response to the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Obama that will bar Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets here. The Obama administration had opposed the Magnitsky legislation, fearing diplomatic retaliation, but members of Congress were eager to press Russia over human rights abuses and tied the bill to another measure granting Russia new status as a full trading partner.

For parents with their hearts set on adopting Russian children, the political discourse has been little more than background noise to their own agony. Officials in Moscow have said they expect the ban to have the immediate effect of blocking the departure of 46 children whose adoptions by US parents were nearly completed.


Robert and Kim Summers of Freehold, N.J., have already paid for three seats on a flight home from Russia next month. They are scheduled to pick up a 21-month-old boy in Kaluga.

They plan to call the boy Preston, and their house is filled with toys and clothes and pictures of him.

‘‘I can’t even fathom what is happening,’’ Kim Summers said, “something so political that has absolutely nothing to do with children.’’